Is This Homicide?

And if so, what should I do about it? I’ll keep the details simple so as not to add any confusion to the account. I know somebody who had a terminal child. The child was a spastic quadriplegic and passed away on December 22. The child was on hospice care during her final days. When she passed, I was told that she was in the company of her mother and her mother’s sister only—there were no medical personnel present. I spoke with one of the child’s nurses this morning, and she suggested, but stopped short of flat-out stating, that the mother gave the child a dose of morphine in excess of the prescribed amount in a deliberate attempt to hasten the child’s passing. If this is true, has a crime been committed? The child almost certainly would have passed anyway within a matter of days. I am a mandated reporter in the state of California, but I do not have to report anything which falls outside the scope of my employment, and this incident does. What action, if any, should I take?

And you believe her why?

Why be suspicious in the first place?

The devil is in the details, why leave them out? Want to be sure you get the answer you want?

If you do call in the authorities, you going to man up or be anonymous?

It seems to me that the nurse is the one who holds the suspicion, so it is the nurse that has the obligation to report her suspicion. What are you going to tell the authorities? “Someone told me they suspect someone else might be involved with drugging a fourth party”?

I’ve known the nurse for years; she introduced me to my wife. I’m suspicious simply because of what she told me, no other reason than that. The details I have now are sketchy—that may change, it may not—I just don’t know. Of course I’ll properly identify myself to the authorities if the need arises—why would I do otherwise?

On the other hand, if you do report it, it will still be up to the police to decide whether it’s worth pursuing or not. So by reporting it, you’ve taken the responsibility out of your hands.

Good point—I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll talk to her about it. Obviously, she’s a mandated reporter too, and this does fall within the scope of her employment.

Another excellent point.

I would think that it would be the nurse’s responsibility to report any evidence to the hospice program. Suspicions are not evidence.

Why in a hospice, with registered nursing staff in attendance, are family members administering doses of narcotic drugs?

The child died at home. I’m not sure where the hospice nurse was at the time.

I got no dog in this hunt, but would’nt there be paperwork for the amount of morphine , if the docs perscribed x cc per dose, then there should be y amount of morphine remaining , to account for this.


Well, unless they have incredibly lax standards of accountability where you are, an overdose would become obvious when the accountable drugs were reclaimed and destroyed. In Australia it would require the complicity of someone on the medical team to hide a deliberate OD. Unless you bought some morphine off the street.

I guess ditto now.

When my grandmother died, they let us do the destroying. I thought it was weird.

I don’t think I would have it in me to actually pull the plug on someone I love. I couldn’t even be in the room. I guess I’ll never be in this situation…

If my child was dying in that sort of situation, that would put me in a rather unpleasant situation. I have the choice of doing something illegal and take the chance on being imprisoned for murder, or I can watch my child die a slow, agonizing death knowing that I could easily end his or her suffering.

This case points out that we as a society don’t really handle death very well. The child is going to die one way or another. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when, and the when is going to be at most a matter of days. If someone has six months to live and still feels healthy maybe it’s not so clear, but in this case the child has a choice of dying a slow agonizing death or dying a faster more peaceful death. The law is clear, though. You have to let the child suffer. That, to me, seems cruel.

IMHO, the law is wrong in this case. You shouldn’t be forced to make someone die a long, slow, agonizing death.

I don’t know how we fix this problem without going into Dr. Kavorkian territory, but it is a problem with how our society handles death and dying. The GQ answer to this is that if the parents did up the morphine to kill the child, they technically did commit murder. I don’t think this is a clear cut GQ question though, because IMHO this is one of those cases where, until we can figure out how to change the law properly, I think the health care professionals and those such as the OP who are in a legally obligated position to report this sort of thing need to just look the other way.

There are cases that aren’t so clear and there is of course the big question of where exactly do you draw the line, but in this case the child was already on morphine and only had days to live anyway. This wasn’t a life or death choice, which is what murder is supposed to be about. It’s a choice of dying quickly and in peace or dying slowly in pain.


I really hope BigT was talking about the drugs. If not that is a really weird way of descibing letting her die.

My family and I were all in the room when they pulled the plug on my dad and it was really tough. Not nearly as tough as the decision to do it though.

If this was true, a crime has been committed but from the information available there is no way of telling if this is true. As you stated, there was no medical personnal present. Also, it is doubtful there was an autopsy. We also know the child was going to die shortly no matter what. From the sounds of things the nurses observations are no more than a hunch.

The nurse who was not present has told you the state of mind of the Mother at the time she gave a dose of medication. How could she possibly know this? How could she know this even if she was present? If she says it was based on the Mother’s prior behavior, then why leave the Mother alone with the child?

What evidence has the nurse presented that there was an overdose? Was medication missing? Did the child display certain characteristics at the time of her death associated with overdose?

In my opinion, I would not report this. The nurse has not told you anything of substance and this is the last thing a family in mourning needs.

R. Incognito

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