Times Colonist

Such an ugly, unnecessar­y way to die Two old, failing lovers might choose to end it all rather than to live apart

- JODY PATERSON

Neither John nor Lorna McCadden are alive to tell us their version of events from that particular­ly awful day last week at Penticton Regional Hospital. The two of them alone know the truth of what happened.

Judge the shootings by the facts of that day, and it’s a murder-suicide. John shot his wife in the head while visiting her at the hospital on Aug. 30, then killed himself. There’s no way to know whether Lorna wanted to be killed. Initial news stories focused on the level of hospital security and recalled other murders in B.C. hospitals.

But step back from the moment, and the facts tell a different story. In that version, John was a tired old man growing sicker all the time, and his beloved Lorna was about to be dispatched permanentl­y to a nursing home. In his mind, at that moment, dying just seemed like the cleanest way to wrap things up.

That two old, failing lovers might choose to die together rather than see their lives slip beyond their control doesn’t seem like any kind of stretch for me. Still, there’s great tragedy in the deaths of John and Lorna just the same, if only because we live in a country where people feel driven to such drastic actions.

August had been a month of tremendous change for the McCaddens. John, 77, had been hospitaliz­ed after suffering a series of small strokes. Lorna, 80, was brought into hospital through emergency.

The couple had been able to visit each other while in hospital together, but then John was discharged, and Lorna given the bad news that she would never be going home.

John talked about having to move now that Lorna was going into care, the couple’s landlord told the Penticton Herald last week.

John knew he was soon going to need care himself; since the strokes, he’d noticed his memory failing.

What would you do in his shoes? I guess we’re supposed to treasure life over everything else, and be glad for extreme medical interventi­ons, care homes and assisted living to tide us through our final years. But what if you prefer to die on your own terms?

It’s too political a subject for us to contemplat­e as a nation. We’re no closer to having a law that lets us choose to die than we were when Sue Rodriguez was killed in the glare of public scrutiny 12 years ago trying to get us talking about assisted suicide.

We’ve quietly come a considerab­le distance on some fronts, to the point that dying people in tremendous pain seem sometimes to be ushered from the world slightly quicker with the help of prescripti­on drugs. I saw my own father eased out in his final hours in what appeared to be just such a way, a most merciful developmen­t.

But for those who don’t have pain, there’s no easy ending. If your diagnosis is a one-way trip to long-term care, that’s where your story is likely going to end.

Personally, I hope to be dead before it ever comes to that — ideally, grown old and wise and then simply found dead in bed one morning after a full and pleasant life. If that’s not possible, I’d still like to think I could work out something less traumatic than having my husband kill me in hospital, but I could see myself resorting to such a measure were things to come to that.

What to do about euthanasia is obviously too big a question for Canadians. Even in the Rodriguez years, we barely scratched the surface of public policy. It’s just so hard to know what to do about people wanting to kill themselves, not the least of which is determinin­g whether they really want to.

But surely old, sick people are in a different category. If we aren’t yet ready to come to grips with euthanasia as a whole, we must still be able to find dignified ways for aging people to choose death when they can no longer maintain their tenuous hold on a diminishin­g life.

“The only thing we really don’t know is the motive,” a Penticton RCMP officer said of the McCaddens’ death, as if the couple’s pending loss of independen­ce, good health and a future together wasn’t explanatio­n enough. Two people dying in such a public, ugly way is a terrible thing, but that’s not to say there’s much of a mystery as to why John did it.

Good arguments can be mounted from either direction: That the McCaddens needed a better care system that supported them as a couple until their natural deaths, or equally, one that would have let them die with dignity. The reality is that we don’t provide either option. Desperate old men are left to gun down the loves of their lives in brutal spectacle.

“It’s just a real shame,” said Lawrence Isaac, the McCaddens’ landlord. It really is.

patersonat­peers@hotmail.com

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 ??  ?? Family photos show Lorna and John McCadden years before they died.
Family photos show Lorna and John McCadden years before they died.

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