Ky. Man Claims Fatally Shooting Wife Was Mercy Killing
A Kentucky man is facing murder charges after he shot his wife at what he claims was her request to relieve her of constant pain caused by breast cancer.
Ernest Chris Chumbley called 911 last month and told the operator, “Yes, I’ve shot my wife.” Virginia Chumbley was 44 when she met her death at her husband’s hand.
“She told me to end the pain, stop the pain,” Chumbley said in a television interview. “Did I want to do it? For her I did. No, I don’t. No, I didn’t want to do it.”
“I said, ‘All I’ve got is what the doctors gave you, the medicine — the pain pill,’” he said. “And she said, ‘No. I’ve took enough of them. I want you to stop my pain for good.’”
If the case advances to trial, it will be up to a jury to determine if Chumbley is credible and what, if any lenience he deserves for acting with what he believed to be mercy for a suffering loved one.
Manslaughter or Mercy
Chumbley’s case is an extreme one, but it comes in a moment when the nation is still grappling with where to draw the line between compassionately helping to end a person’s suffering and acts that could be considered manslaughter or murder.
Vermont this year became the first state to pass through the legislature a death with dignity law allowing physicians to prescribe a deadly dose of medication to terminally ill patients. Oregon, Washington and Montana also allow physician-assisted suicide thanks to ballot measures and court decisions.
The death with dignity laws all have certain requirements, such as that a patient have less than six months to live and be mentally competent. Outside that structure, the line between mercy and manslaughter remains blurred. Consider the case of Barbara Mancini, a Pennsylvania woman who gave her 93-year-old father a bottle of morphine which he reportedly used in an attempt to overdose and end his suffering.
After he was resuscitated by medical personnel, Joe Yourshaw died four days later and Mancini was arrested on assisted suicide charges. Supporters have protested her detainment, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that dying patients have the right to pain medication “to alleviate that suffering, even to the point of causing unconsciousness and hastening death.”
Other states are considering their own death with dignity bills that could clarify when and why a patient can be given medication that they intend to use to end their lives, although sharp political divisions may prevent the country from ever reaching a true consensus on where the line should be drawn.
“The fact that other states are grappling with similar statutes at this time just confirms that questions about how we die remain ever-relevant and ever-controversial,” says Kimberly Mutcherson, a law professor at the Rutgers, in a recent interview with Rutgers Today. “We are not a society that talks very openly about death. If these bills do nothing more than force us to have more open and robust conversations about end-of-life care, that alone is a good thing.”
“These are conversations that we should be having in our classrooms, as I do in several of my law school courses, in our churches, in our hospital ethics committees, at dinner parties, in town hall meetings, and, of course, in our state legislatures,” Mutcherson says. “Death comes for all of us, and how we face it is a dilemma for the ages.”