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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Murder Case of ALS Patient Could Lead to Further Prejudice and Misunderstanding

Although the story is from 2015, it raises concerns even today.  Read the full story here.  To summarize a Wisconsin man was on trial for murder.  In an unprecedented case, the jury in the case, has found the then-40 year-old former sheriff's deputy not legally responsible for shooting to death his wife and sister-in-law because he had developed a form of dementia related to his disease.

In reality, about 50% of ALS patients can develop cognitive problems and only 10% develop a frontotemporal dementia with severe cognitive impairment.  But the defendant had written a note on his phone the day before the shootings, in which he fabricated an elaborate three-way suicide pact as a cover-up.  And that day, he also bought charcoal for his grill, which he subsequently lit in his house in order to commit suicide via carbon dioxide poisoning. The prosecution maintained that the actions the day before proved premeditation and couldn't have been performed by someone with cognitive disorder. Furthermore, experts on ALS say that even in patients with severe frontotemporal dementia [FTD], they have never seen acts of such violence as those committed by the ALS patient on trial.

Neurologists who work with ALS patients are confounded by the jury's decision -- that the shooter was innocent due to his neurological condition which caused him to act impulsively and irrationally.  Doctors are concerned that this case could erroneously brand ALS patients as violent.  They say that even with ALS patients who do suffer FTD, they have only seen docile and apathetic attitudes.

I wonder if the jury's decision had as much to do with pity, taking into account that this defendant had a short life ahead, filled with its own suffering and hardship.  In a strange twist, I am in agreement with the neurologists who say that this can set a dangerous precedent -- one I know all too well.  You see,  I see first-hand all the time, evidence of the fear of this disease.  I hear loved-ones tell me straight up that they are concerned about being around me because they "wouldn't know what to do if something happened".  When I ask what "something" is, they shrug.  I was recently with a group of people who held their breath every time I coughed, even though there were members of the group who coughed at least twice as much as I coughed, but nobody flinched when they did it.  

It really puzzles me when some people ask me while I am eating "Are you okay?" every two minutes.  The discomfort on some peoples' faces can't betray the dread and fear of this disease.
Now do we really need the fear that I will somehow fly into a sudden rage and kill everyone?
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