Suffering in silence…

BY now most of us will be familiar with the tragic tale of Bill Barbour and his wife, Alzheimers victim Ann. It appears Mr Barbour, who was Ann’s primary carer, suffocated his long-suffering wife before drowning himself. In this heartbreaking interview, the couple’s son tries to explain the family’s predicament and asks if “society should look at ways of relaxing controls on people choosing the time of the endings of their lives”.

If that was attended to, perhaps in the future somebody carrying out this wish wouldn’t find themselves in the position my father found himself in on Monday night of wading into a freezing cold lake in the dark, in bad weather, on his own.

Whether that’s something you agree with or not, surely it has to be one of the most difficult things in life to cope with – to watch a loved-one’s mental health deteriorate, with no prospect of recovery?

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  • Padraig

    Interesting.

    This gentleman, as far as I can see, from Gonzo’s article stiffed his wife as Far , again as I can see without the murdered lady having a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ in her being suffocated.
    And yet no trace from Gonzo or the poor woman’s son about the moral probity of killing someone in such circumstances.

    I hope if the time comes and I am old and sick someone like Gonzo is not lurking in the background to whip out a plastic bag stick it over my head and very kindly to ‘put me out of my misery’. This may be fine with budgies and old dogs, but even with an old dog the old plastic bag trick might be though a little barbaric.

    I also hope when I am old folks like Gonzo are not making the laws . It might lead to phobia about Tesco Bags.

  • McGrath

    All explanations and answers here are too complex….I refer simply to the day they were married…I wish them all the best still, and all of their family.

    McGrath

  • K.A.T. Jones

    So, after the child sex, we have the stiff granny thread. His Holiness, John Paul 11, went on to the bitter end. That is the meaning of respect for life. Proponents of euthanasia, are, like Hitler, who championed the cause, the enemies of life.

  • Fabianus

    Isn’t it odd that the Swiss allow euthanasia and provide a dignified way of doing it and we don’t?

    There must be a vast difference between the British and Swiss when the Swiss trust their people not to abuse the system and we don’t.

    Is it something in the water do you think? They are a landlocked nation after all. Also they don’t go to war quite as much as we do.

  • DR

    Fabianus, they just milked both sides during the war. By what I have read their system is being abused greatly and they are in the process of tightening it up.
    My sympathy is with the Barbour family and while I might not agree with his actions it has past now and the family should be allowed to mourn in peace without being dragged into a political squabble.

  • Judith

    I cannot believe K.A.T. Jones dared to compare this poor man with Hitler. Of course the genocide of millions of people is comparible to one lonely and desparate couple searching for a way out of pain and misery. With the ageing population and advances in modern medicine the time to debate euthanasia is now.

  • Jo

    I think commenters might have some basic human respect and regard for the feelings of the friends and family of this couple before writing comments such as some of those above: talking about “stiffing” anyone is crass, ignorant and can only add further hurt.

    My sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Mr and Mrs Barbour.

  • Fabianus

    DR

    “Fabianus, they just milked both sides during the war.”

    They kept out of it. I think you’ll find that other nations used the Swiss for their own purposes.

    “By what I have read their system is being abused greatly and they are in the process of tightening it up.”

    How dare another decide if I may die or not?

    That’s news to me. I’m not aware that the current situation in Switzerland, the Netherlands or Belgium is leading to abuse. Or do you mean that British people are abusing it by travelling there instead of remaining here to suffer?

    “My sympathy is with the Barbour family and while I might not agree with his actions it has past now and the family should be allowed to mourn in peace without being dragged into a political squabble.”

    I’m with you part of the way. It’s just that my thoughts return to Diane Pretty and others who got caught up in the political squabble, and lost.

  • Naikan

    Perhaps if Martin and Peter concentrated their energies on things that matter to people; good healthcare, rather than focusing on boosting their egos, the world would be a better place.

    And perhaps if we all forced them to do this, rather than forever living on our litte Alice in Wonderland worlds, we would all feel that we had actually done something worthwhile.

    If you have an elderly parent in N.Ireland, and they get Parkinsons, for example, you can kiss the prospect of good care goodbye…because there simply is none.

  • the way it is

    my hert really goes out to the family of bill and ann barber the fact that anyone may find them selves in this position is just unthink able

    why is it that if an animal is in pain or very ill the most humain thing to do is to put that animal to sleep

    if we put animals out of their suffering why can’t we do the same with human beings.

    I am not saying I agree with the actions Mr barbour took

    though I do think that if someone has an incurable disease then they should be able to chose wether they want to die or not

    surley the hardest thing is to face up to death so this people who chose to end their lives are braver than I will ever be

  • Garza

    What if the wife said she would rather die than become a vegetable before she got to that state.

    MY father has said to be MANY times he would rather I pull the plug than for him to become a vegetable. What I’m I meant to do about that one, when I could face prison by only carrying out my father’s wishes.

    Many nationalists say online here that they would rather “live on their feet than die on their knees”

    I think the same can be applied to this situation, don’t you think?

  • Panic, These Ones Likes It Up Em.

    Walk in another womans/mans shoes before you decide what course of action that you would have taken.

    My condolences to the family at the pinnacle of their time of tradegy.

  • Toocrassforwords

    “again as I can see without the murdered lady having a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ in her being suffocated”

    I suggest that you watch the emotional video of their son and read about it in a little more depth. He believes an agreement was made in the early stages between the couple.

    Some of the comments on here are appalling and made me deeply angry. I can understand and I respect those who oppose any form of euthanasia based on an argument for the absolute sanctity of human life. But the least those who wish to judge this man can do is to dignify their principled stands with a recognition of his extreme mental torment and the heartbreaking decision he felt obliged to take. Principles should ever blind us to the tragic humanity of a situation like this.

    To paint this as a black and white case of murder by deploying crass language or making idiotic comparisons to Hitler shows a complete disregard for the suffering of the couple. Whatever your ethical take on euthanasia (and I agree that it is time to debate it seriously and maturely now) there is very little that is ethical about mocking, belittling or otherwise disregarding the extreme emotional pain at the heart of this deeply sad story.

    Having seen the same happen to elderly relatives of my own, my heart simply goes out to the couple and to their surviving relatives.

  • monitor boy

    it looks like a beautiful act of love to me.

  • Fabianus

    monitor boy

    “it looks like a beautiful act of love to me.”

    In enlightened societies it is. In ours it’s a crime.

    Now, who are we going to invade next? Switzerland?

  • bertie

    Very very sad. I don’t agree with what he did but I have very sympathy for his predicamant and my thoughts are with their family.

  • Blue Hammer

    I watched my dad suffer from Alzheimer’s, and for the last year of his life it was pitiful to see. A man in clear distress, unable to communicate, unable to do anything for himself.

    Almost every time i went to visit i sat thinking “i could end this for you, dad” but lacked the courage to do what this old gentleman found the strength to do.

    Some of the comments above do their writers no credit. Few, if any of us can have experienced the pain that drove him to his actions, and i for one cannot condemn him for them.

    Sincere condolence to the family left behind should be our only comment.

  • joeCanuck

    Those were heartbreaking words from the son about his father’s last moments. It should not have to happen.

    For those who would say all killing is wrong, even sinful to some, remember that next time you see a cleric, imam or whatever blessing troops going off to war.

  • whatthe

    Television segment with deceased son was too soon – I found it wrong. Shame on the broadcasters.

  • Rory Carr

    We must be very careful in calling upon the state to remove sanctions upon the taking of human life. What the state permits today it may mandate tomorrow.

    The great social reforms of the post-war years and the caring concensus of Butskellism are past us now with the advent of Thatcherism and the brutal ascendancy of Blairite apparatchniks in New Labour. We can no longer assume that the welfare of all the citizens of the nation is the paramount concern of the state, if indeed it ever was.

    Our concerns are rightly with the care and treatment of people in their final days, to ensure that in their descent towards death they are made comfortable, free from unecessary pain and treated with dignity. Such care is not without trouble, effort and expense but these burdens are not to willed away by the convenient despatch of the inconvenient patient.

    My fears (and those of others) is that once the door is opened to ‘mercy killing’, ‘assisted suicide’ and other such euphemisms for what is none other than the putting down of a human soul then it may not be long before a policy of pressure develops to rid society of the burden of the indigent elderly (the elderly rich will naturally be excluded from such pressure).

    Society, in the form of the judiciary, already treats with compassion those carers who, in despair and from genuine motivations of loving kindness, have ended the suffering lives of those for whom they cared and it is highly unlikely that such as the unfortunate Bill Barbour, had he not taken his own life, would have faced punishment, but there is much too much danger in lifting sanctions that wholesale slaughter may relieve us from the duty of care that we have to the sick and elderly whatever the cost to our comfort.

  • Little Boy Keynes

    The Reverend George Exoo, an openly homosexual Unitarian preacher from Beckley, West Virginia helps non-terminally ill people commit suicide. Exoo claims that he and his homosexual sex partner have so far helped more than 100 people to “check out”. Unusually for a Unitarian, Exoo wears a clerical dog collar as it helps him gain the confidence of those he eggs on for exit. When Thomas McGurrin, his chubby sex partner, became too ill to assist him, Exoo retained the services of a middle aged woman, who admits she regards assisted suicide as a business, not a calling. If the price is right, she will top anyone. Exoo and his sidekicks are pathetic parts of the global psychic industry and they profile and cold read their victims the same as any other charlatan would.

    Exoo is wanted in Ireland for helping a depressed woman check out. But hey, he is progressive.

    I sympathise with them but they are keeping one industry bullish. And for that, let us rejoice.

  • Padraig

    If it was me I would be concerned about my mother getting bumped of, rather than folks talking about her getting bumped off.

    As to folks talking about her , maybe, perhaps wanting someone to Tesco Bag her…well that’s to put it mildly hearsay evidence and a court of law3 would laugh at such nonsense. As they say it isn’t worth the paper it isn’t written on.

  • joeCanuck

    Society, in the form of the judiciary, already treats with compassion those carers who, in despair and from genuine motivations of loving kindness, have ended the suffering lives of those for whom they cared and it is highly unlikely that such as the unfortunate Bill Barbour, had he not taken his own life, would have faced punishment,

    Not in every jurisdiction, Rory. We have had at least one man found guilty of murder here in Canada, a very unfortunate case. If he had been tried in Toronto, for example, I am fairly convinced that the jury would have found him either innocent or guilty of a lesser offence but he was tried in rural Manitoba where, apparently, the folks didn’t know about Jury nullification.
    To give him credit the trial Judge tried to get away with sentencing him to 1 Year and probation afterwards but a Superior Court struck that down since we have mandatory minimum sentences for murder across Canada; 25 years for first degree and 10 years for second degree. That was enacted to persuade sufficient MPs to vote for the abolition of the death penaly back in the 60s.

  • Padraig

    Sorry.

    It may have been a Sainbury”s bag. How de classe of me.

  • Mr Brightside

    A tragic and heartbreaking story. My sympathies go out to the family.

    Regarding the topic of euthanasia I’m morally easier with omission of life prolonging drugs than commission of life terminating drugs. The later has intent, with the former its a consequence.

    I accept though that even with the best attempts at palliation life can remain unbearable, and that the whole issue of euthanasia has arisen because of the success of modern medicine in keeping us all ticking along.

    A black and white issue, it certainly isn’t.

  • paddy

    just a selfish old man

  • Fabianus

    Little Boy

    “The Reverend George Exoo, an openly homosexual Unitarian preacher”

    “Exoo claims that he and his homosexual sex partner”

    “Thomas McGurrin, his chubby sex partner”

    Is sexual orientation relevant to a discussion about euthanasia? And if so why?

  • granni trixie

    My thoughts and sympathy are with Mr Barbour’s children. Probably because of this kind of natural reaction however, public discourse seems to be saying that what he did was “understandable”.

    What I would preferred journalists and others to highlight was the strain of incessant caring which can lead to a losing of a sense of poportion.

    Bill Barbour contributed so much to his family and to society in Northern Ireland that I can only believe that he had lost his way – if he had let his dispair be known I feel sure someone would have helped him find a different solution and deflected him from the path he chose.

    How horrible if people with his wife’s condition and their carers feel from the publics apparent acceptance of what happened that they are expendable.

    As said at the start, I say this respectful of the fact that the Barbour family are grieving and I just wish that in time they can restart their own lives.

  • Reader

    granni trixie: …carers feel from the publics apparent acceptance of what happened that they are expendable.
    That’s not how people actually feel, though. Imagine yourself, with your memory, personality and identity draining away day by day, with your partner caring for you 24/7, without even the compensation of a real relationship – memories being all that is left for your partner, and nothing at all for yourself. What would you want for your partner? What would you want for yourself?
    And while you still had your mental capacity, what might you discuss with your partner?

  • Rasputin

    Love it or loathe it, euthanasia is too complex to solve in a small comment box like this.

    I’ve been reading Fabianus’ arguements and they are illinformed at best.

    Making sweeping statements when debating controversial issue is, as a rule of thumb, best avoided. Claiming that the Dutch and Swiss end of life laws are abuse-free falls into this category. It isn’t true either.

    Fabianus states “How dare another decide if I may die or not?”
    Autonomy is probably the pro euthanasia lobby’s ace card.

    I just can’t help thinking, that in the case of Mrs Barbour, this is exactly what happened. Her husband decided she should die. Pact or no pact, it would appear that a competent human being with the necessary capacity did not make the choice to die at the said moment in time.
    This really does wander down the path of others deciding “we’re better off dead”, and is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Baroness Warnock’s somewhat absurd suggestion that those with dementia have a “duty to die”.

    That said, I’m sure it’s not a decision the man took lightly, and his family are surely deserving of all sympathies.
    Perhaps it’s a sign that the palliative care for those with Alzheimer’s needs a bit more funding and/or development, and at the moment is putting carers under far too much pressure.

  • Fabianus

    Rasputin

    Fair enough, if you believe you should decide when I may die then that’s your prerogative.

    You won’t mind in that case my telling you to fuck off and mind your own goddamned business?

    I repeat: How dare another tell me how and when I should end my own life?

    What are your qualifications? Do you know more about this life and possible afterlifes than I do?

    No, you fucking don’t.

    So why don’t you vanish up your anus and allow your betters to live and die as they see fit?

    Wanker.

  • Frank

    ‘That’s not how people actually feel, though. Imagine yourself, with your memory, personality and identity draining away day by day, with your partner caring for you 24/7, without even the compensation of a real relationship – memories being all that is left for your partner, and nothing at all for yourself. What would you want for your partner? What would you want for yourself?’

    Very well said Reader & very sad story indeed

  • Rasputin

    Fabianus, I never said I ought to be able to set the time and date of your death. Under the 1961 Suicide act you may choose to do that whenever you want.

    That acid test for the patient’s death in this case was not the patient’s suffering, but the carer’s. The carer chose the time and date of the patient’s death.

    This gave the patient no say, and would be described as non-voluntary euthanasia.

    I don’t want anyone to decide for me to die just as much as you don’t want anyone to decide you must stay alive

  • Fabianus

    Rasputin

    Fair enough.

  • IJP

    Thanks Gonzo for starting this thread.

    I got to know the Barbours in April, campaigning in Enniskillen, before driving James back to Belfast. I found Bill and James exceptionally thoughtful and intelligent men, and I already felt for them in their plight, having myself had a grandfather who suffered Alzheimer’s for some years, and having currently other close family members suffering from other forms of dementia. Thus, I find this story one of the most personally harrowing I have experienced.

    Firstly, I feel every sympathy for their children, family members and friends – of whom I know there were very many.

    The story raises many issues: the need for greater attention for carers in general; the need for greater awareness-raising of and research into all forms of dementia; and of course the issue of euthanasia (including that determined by or even carried out by family members). These are questions for wide-ranging public debate (as they are only going to become more and more relevant).

    Ultimately, I find I cannot agree with what Bill did – but I find it utterly forgivable and draw some solace from the fact that, clearly, so does his son.

  • LURIG

    NO ONE has the right to play GOD or take anyone’s life. That said I feel nothing but sympathy and deep emotion for this couple and their family. NONE of us knows how we would act pushed to the human extremes and feelings of total despair. May the Lord have mercy on both of them especially Mr. Barbour.

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