Suicide Pact Gone Wrong: Nebraska Woman Charged

Their July 18 deaths are just one among many loving, married couples who have recently carried out suicide pacts.

"I can't stand that word 'suicide pact,' because my parents chose to die with dignity," said Witte. "This was not an act of desperation. He was declaring his undying love for my mother."

The Gute case echoed other similar suicides from other parts of the United States in the past few months.

Just this month in Little Rock, Ark., an 81-year-old man, recovering from cancer, killed his 76-year-old wife, then himself. A neighbor said, "Its kind of mind-boggling. I can't fathom why and wish I could understand why, but they were a great couple. She adored Armistead and he adored her."

In July, a couple in their 80s from Sedona, Ariz., were found dead in a Colorado cabin after the man shot his wife in the temple, then killed himself. The couple belonged to Final Exit, the nonprofit group that promotes a "dignified death."

Their note to loved ones read: "Many years ago we decided to be in charge of the timing of our own death. Hopefully, it would be when the lines of normal aging, health problems and finances all crossed. It is our intention to avoid the indignities of prolonged nursing home care or terminal hospitalization."

Also in July, the oldest son of an Exeter, N.H., couple found with fatal gunshot wounds in an apparent murder-suicide called their deaths a "suicide pact." The wife's health was failing and they were described as "childhood sweethearts."

Suicide Pacts More Common Among Elderly

"Suicide among the elderly is often preplanned, especially if there is a long-term illness," said Doree Lynn, a Washington, D.C., psychologist and author of "When the Man You Love Is Ill: Doing Your Best for Your Partner Without Losing Yourself."

"Sometimes it's done strictly out of illness and depression, but if it's an act of love. They have been through life and death and raised their children and gone through being married for better or worse," she said. "With a long-term couple, they say, 'Let us die together.'"

Society needs to be more tolerant of these choices, Lynn said, but at the same time, "We can't put our seniors out on an iceberg like the Eskimos."

There are no statistics available for how many couples die in suicide pacts, but Americans over 65 are more likely to die by suicide than their younger counterparts, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

While the elderly make up only about 12 percent of the population, the elderly account for 16 percent of the suicides.

Older people have a suicide rate of 14 out 100,000; the general population rate is 11 for every 100,000 deaths. For non-Hispanic white males over age 85, the rate is nearly 50 per 100,000, according to NIMH.

Many Americans are still morally squeamish about suicide.

Bill Jose, who has a doctorate in social psychology, recently led a special interest group discussion on suicide at the Osher Institute of Learning at the University of Southern Maine in Portland for seniors aged 65 to 80.

"It was a difficult conversation for people who come from a religious Christian background," he said. "There is a feeling that, 'Gee, suicide is something that locks you out of heaven.' It's a tough one for a lot of them."

His particular interests are the topics where "science, religious and morality all come together," and end-of-life care is just that, he said.

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