Here’s a sad new trend you may be hearing about more often these days: According to ABC News, new statistics show that today’s seniors over age 65 are 5% more likely to die by suicide than any other age group. A growing number of elderly couples are now making the difficult decision to commit suicide together, in so-called “suicide pacts.”
For example: You may have heard about the elderly New Hampshire couple that was found dead in July, as the result of an apparent murder-suicide pact. The wife’s health had been failing for months, and the self-described “childhood sweethearts” decided to end their lives together. Meanwhile, another elderly couple was found dead in Colorado this summer. Authorities later discovered they were both members of a group called Final Exit, which promotes suicide as, quote: “a dignified death”.
Experts say this trend raises a difficult question: Are suicide pacts the ultimate act of love or something else entirely? Dr. Bill Jose is a psychologist at the University of Southern Maine who says most couples who choose to kill themselves together take their vow of “til death do us part” very seriously. They figure they’ve raised children together, and gone through the ups and downs of sharing life together, so why not die together too? Dr. Jose adds that for better or worse, modern science has created a moral catch-22 for today’s seniors. On one hand, they know doctors can keep you alive longer than ever before, but when you become too sick or frail to speak for yourself, other people are forced to make decisions for you. A growing number of seniors would rather avoid putting that kind of burden on others, by taking charge of their own death. That’s one reason why experts say grown children should have serious talks with their parents about all end-of-life decisions. That's because suicide pacts are almost never a spur-of-the-moment decision, and they’re far more likely to be planned when a terminal illness is involved.
For help talking to a senior about their emotional well-being, we recommend contacting the Institute on Aging, at IOAging.org. Or, if you suspect someone you know is thinking about suicide, try this Website: SuicidePreventionHotline.org.