The headline jumped out at me like a bright neon elephant in print: “Dementia Argument Delays Execution.” Dementia and execution are two words that should never be placed in the same sentence. The associated press had my attention. I settled into my train seat and my personal thoughts ran rampant. 1) This case happened 33 years ago! Why has it taken the state of Alabama 33 years to make this decision? 2) How do others feel about Alabama lawmakers in 2017 changing the law to “No longer allow a judge to override a jury’s sentence recommendation in death penalty-eligible cases?” I respect a group of peers’ decision, but I wonder has enough changed in the South that a man of color is being convicted by his group of peers? 3) “The murderer now has slurred speech, is legally blind, can no longer walk independently and has urinary incontinence due to brain damage.” Dare I ask is this not a death sentence in itself?
The medical world is eons away from finding a cure, and legislators are no closer to implementing a death by dignity law. States like Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, and Colorado provide no relief for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The law requires that a person be mentally competent to choose a planned death, as well as receive a prognosis of six months or less to live. The only legal option when faced with serious dementia is “Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED).” This option is available to persons in the very early stages of dementia when they still have sufficient cognitive ability to choose between life and death and enough fortitude to see the VSED process through.
I would no doubt present this case to my students as a “What would you do” scenario. I will also take this case to my professional group for discussion as this is a case worth talking about.