Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Ballad of John Welles and Hunt Williams

A Tale of Assisted Suicide, Friendship, and the Law in Connecticut 66-year-old John T. Welles of Cornwall, Connecticut, was a former Marine and inventor, and was fiercely independent. He had taken care of himself all his life, building his own home and growing his own food. He enjoyed helping others, But did not expect reciprocation -- nor did he care for it. In fact, he had not even made a habit of seeing a doctor, so he "did not know he had prostate cancer until three weeks before killing himself on June 11, 2004." Several folks in the community were part of a voluntary group that provided care and company for the dying Welles -- 24 hours a day. And, as Welles had made no secret of his plans, those caring for him were not surprised by this turn of events. But they were certainly surprised when, 6 months after Welles' death, 74-year-old Huntington Williams was charged with manslaughter for helping fulfill his dying friend's wish. He could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Assisted suicide is not legal in Connecticut

The morning Welles died, Williams relieved a friend who had spent the night with the dying man.

"John needs to do this. Are you able to do this with him?" the friend asked Williams, according to a police affidavit.

Williams, a volunteer emergency medical technician and retired high school teacher, had watched his wife, Rebecca, die of ovarian cancer a decade ago. He replied that he could "honor John's wishes."

He cleaned Welles' .38-caliber revolver and carried it outside. Smoking a pipe and leaning on a walker, Welles headed to the front yard.

The men shook hands and Williams walked down the driveway. Before Williams could say "God bless," he heard a gunshot.

"This is what John wanted," Williams told police. "I had a comfortable feeling that this was right for him, knowing the man." [source]

The Connecticut legislature is considering easing the penalties for assisting in suicides. The legislation was prompted by the Williams case, and his lawyer believes probation is the best he can do. Many Cornwall residents support Williams. But there are some opposition voices. "Why should we have a separate standard for old, ill or disabled people who want to die?" asked Stephen Drake of the Chicago-based Not Dead Yet. "We talk about the suicides of younger people as tragedies. Why should we be sanctioning the suicides of certain people?" [source] It's gonna be a long year folks. Linkage:

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