Can you really kill out of mercy?

Michael Cook
16 Jan 2011
Reproduced with Permission

After reading about an 84-year-old man in Taipei who helped his wife to die, I thought that the concept of "mercy killing" needs to be examined more carefully. The wife of Wang Ching-hsi had Parkinsonfs disease and was bed-ridden with two broken legs. They were a lonely, but financially comfortable couple. Mr Wang wrote at least two blog entries about euthanasia and suicide on November 27 and December 5.

On December 26 he acted. He drugged his wife with sleeping pills and then took a screwdriver and hammered it into his wife's skull. There was very little bleeding. Then he rang the police and told them: "I killed my wife. Please send someone here to take care of the rest." He also rang his pastor and asked him to come to pray over his wife's body.

Mr Wang later told police that he and his wife had agreed years ago to end each other's lives if one of them were to suffer from a severe illness. The couple's two sons are living in the US. One of them flew back for the court appearance but quickly returned. The other did not come at all.

The trouble with mercy killing is that it is indistinguishable from murder, the intentional killing of another human being with premeditated malice. How does one distinguish between a husband who kills an invalid wife to end her suffering and a husband who kills an invalid wife to end her snoring? Answer: ending suffering takes months of planning. Ending snoring takes a brain explosion.The premeditation seems to add to the guilt, because the husband had time to seek help and consider other options.

There seems to be an increase in the invocation of mercy killing as an excuse for murder. Also in December, a Brooklyn man smothered his 86-year-old mother with a pillow. Yefim Tsirinsky rang the police and told them: "My mother asked me to kill her."

We must not minimize the stress of caring for invalids, especially without help from family members or governments. It can exhaust and demoralise even a loving spouse. It is an indictment of a society that allows people to bear a burden like this without help. But making a plan to kill a sick relative is still murder. What else could it be?