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John Roberts has been arrested for murdering his wife Virginia in Oregon. Why is this important? His brother claims that John killed Virginia as an act of compassion because she had Lou Gehrig’s disease and didn’t want to wait to die until she would have qualified for legal assisted suicide. From the story:

Friends and family of John Roberts, the Gresham man arrested in the death of his wife, Virginia, say her death Saturday was not a cold-blooded attack but an act of compassion for a woman living with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. John Roberts’ brother and daughter and a close family friend told The Oregonian that Virginia’s ALS had worsened in the weeks leading to her death on Saturday. They say John Roberts hinted to them that Virginia had asked him to help take her life when she no longer wished to carry on...

“There is a story that makes this not just a murder,” said Greg Roberts, a former Seattle police detective and John Roberts’ brother. “It is my firm belief that this was a pact between the two of them, that she asked him to do this. “And part of the reason why they chose this method rather than going down the assisted suicide route was that she was so proud that she didn’t want to let herself get into the condition she would need to be in before they’d be allowed” to participate in Oregon’s Death with Dignity program, which requires a person to be within six months of death. (My emphasis.)

This is the kind of case that led to the complete collapse of euthanasia guideline enforcement in the Netherlands. And I predict: If this is the defense, if Mr. Roberts admits killing his wife for purposes of mercy at her request—he may be convicted of something like manslaughter, but will not be meaningfully punished. After all, the only thing he did was provide “aid in dying” a little earlier than would have otherwise been provided under the law. And so what if it wasn’t “self administered” or overseen by a doctor: What is it about “choice” that we don’t understand?

If Roberts killed his wife and despite a “mercy killing” defense is seriously punished, I will post it as the state taking the assisted suicide guidelines seriously. But I am betting—again assuming the assertions in the story are true—that Mr. Roberts will do little if any jail time for shooting his wife. This is the tide unleashed when we agree in law that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering.

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