Helium and dementia

A few days before he committed suicide with his wife of 53 years, Daniel Gute, a retired physician, wrote a note explaining their mutual decision to die. The two-page handwritten letter is signed by both Gute and his wife, Katherine, whom he calls “Kitty.” Kitty Gute had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease more than a year before. The two were discovered with their heads inclined towards each other, wearing helium hoods.

“I hope I am making the right call in dying in the very near future; dying well when I am able to act. There has been a great amount of emotional turmoil, which I hope to control at the finish line.” One of their three daughters found them, and also the note which said, “”I am sorry for whomever finds us, but it was time to end our lives. In this random world, it was our free choice.”

Kitty Gute was 78. Daniel Gute was almost 80. Daniel feared that he would grow too frail to carry out their decision or that Kitty Gute’s dementia would progress to a point that it would obliterate her ability to form will or intent. It is a not uncommon dilemma. Of the hundreds of thousands of people facing dementia, for the ones intent on self-deliverance the question is, “Now while I have the ability, or risk leaving it too late?”

There are currently 750,000 people with dementia in the UK. A new case is diagnosed every few minutes. How would you react?

Attitudes among right-to-life campaigners vary. One colleague said he wanted to go while he was still in his right mind and not suffer the indignity of late-stage dementia. Another said that if he appeared reasonably happy and there were people to look after him then he would want to go on.

Early stage diagnosis offers more treatment options, even if it cannot be cured. Just this month, a leading think tank has warned that nursing care for people with dementia is in need of a radical overhaul. The King’s Fund says people with Alzheimer’s and dementia in England are having NHS-funded care withdrawn in the later stages of their illness and relatives forced to pick up the bill for additional nursing support.

People facing Alzheimer’s or dementia face difficult choices – medical, social and financial. But the underlying choices are still personal ones. Caring for those around us with gentleness and compassion is one. Knowing how to take matters into ones own hands if the need becomes overpowering is another.

Some resources:
Alzheimer’s Treatment and Prevention – simple steps
Alzheimer’s Disease – encyclopaedia overview
‘Japanese gardens calm Alzheimer’s patients’ – Centre for Ageing Research & Development in Ireland
Japan embraces Learning Therapy for Alzheimer’s – Taipei Times
Memory not first Alzheimer’s sign – BBC News
(Audio) Alzheimer’s test ’95% accurate’ BBC (breaking news)
Struggle as dementia care ‘withdrawn’ – video and text – BBC
Care home turns back the clock on dementia – video and text – BBC
Alzheimer’s disease – what causes it? – BBC
Daniel & Kitty Gute – Physician and his wife commit suicide (news report)
Alzheimer’s and Advance Statements (Alzheimer’s Society)
Your right to refuse future medical treatment – UK Gov’t guidance
Sample NHS Living Wills policy document (Bath & N.E. Somerset)
Drug treatments for Alzheimer’s - Alzheimer’s Society
Free online DVDS – dementia resources (HealthScotland .com)
Holiday festivities can be Alzheimer-friendly – The Chronicle Herald
Video interview with Terry Pratchett, best selling author with early Alzheimer’s (BBC)
(Videos) Part 1 / Part 2 Terry Pratchett’s address to Alzheimer’s Research Trust as he donates one million dollars to the cause.
Dementia statistics (Alzheimer’s Research Trust); & Alzheimer’s Society statistics.

This entry was posted in assisted suicide, living will, mercy killing, palliative care, self deliverance, voluntary euthanasia and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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