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04/16/2019

Ann Neumann Discusses Mercy Killings or Suicide-Homicides (April 15th)

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In 2017 more than 47,000 Americans committed suicide.  While suicide rates decreased during the 1980s and 1990s, they have increased by 33% over the past two decades.  Today they are one of the top ten causes of death.  Suicide or suicide-homicides, where the spouse or partner kills their loved one and frequently and immediately themselves, are unsurprising for several reasons.  Among others, the US has no universal long term care policy.   (The ACA attempted to create a voluntary long term care provision, termed the CLASS Act, but it was never implemented having found to be financially non-viable - some would say intentionally so.)  Medicare does not provide long term coverage.  The Medicare hospice benefit is de facto time limited (Medicare hospice providers have an annual per beneficiary reimbursement cap, the only Medicare program to impose a spending cap), one has to meet a poverty threshold to qualify for long term care under Medicaid and commercial long term care insurance, if available, is unaffordable for many seniors.  This last fact is largely explained by the reality that a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes below $15,000 and an equal percent have savings totaling less than $15,000 and over half of these have no savings or are in debt.   Concerning medical aid in dying laws, that present their own limitations, currently only eight states (NJ as of this past week) and DC allow for it. 

During this 27 minute conversation, Ms. Neumann discusses her recent  Harper's Magazine essay titled, "Going to Extremes, Are Homicides Among the Elderly Acts of Mercy or Acts _50A9718_HR_4of Malice?"  The conversation begins with Ms. Neumann's account of Philip Benight and Becky Golden's experience around which the essay is focused.  Ms Neumann moves on to discuss how these acts are addressed by prosecutors, what explains a not uncommon precipitating event, that is terminally ill patients being held in acute or in-patient settings against their will, how and why the health care industry fails to meet the needs of seriously/terminally ill individuals and whether mercy killings can be defined as rational suicides or whether they are acts of mercy or malice.        

Ms. Ann Neumann is the author of The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America and a nonfiction contributing editor at Guernica magazine.  Ms. Neumann was a visiting scholar at The Center for Religion and Media at New York University until 2018 and has written about religion and health care for Harper's Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Baffler and other publications.  Ms. Neumann is currently working on a book about grief and travel. 

Ms. Neumann's February Harper's Magazine essay is at: https://khn.org/news/suicide-seniors-long-term-care-nursing-homes/

The Kaiser Health News April 9th report noted in the introduction of this podcast and titled, "Lethal Plans: When Seniors Turn to Suicide in Long-Term Care," is at: https://khn.org/news/suicide-seniors-long-term-care-nursing-homes/

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