Saturday, 8 December 2007

The greatest gesture of love

It must be terrible to see your partner in the throes of a terminal illness, but shooting them dead to end their suffering is astonishing.

That's what Vitangelo Bini did to his 82 year old wife Mara in a hospital ward in Prato, Italy. One newspaper called it "the greatest gesture of love" - il più grande gesto d'amore.

Mara had had Alzheimers for 12 years and Mr Bini had borne most of the burden of looking after her. She was no longer able to recognise her husband or anyone else, and had lost the power of speech.

Mr Bini, unable to see her suffering drag on, shot her three times in front of the other patients and medical staff, and then immediately gave himself up to police.

Over 900,000 Italians are afflicted with the disease, but the Catholic Church won't countenance mercy killing, however dreadful the circumstances.

It must be unbearable to watch your loved one wasting away from some corrosive illness, but not many of us would have the nerve for a mercy killing, never mind shooting.

I like to think that if it came to it, I would help someone die and put them out of their misery, but who knows if I could actually go through with it?

Would I risk other people's condemnation and hostility to have the courage of my convictions? It must be an excruciating decision to make.

But once the quality of life someone is accustomed to has all but drained away, and they've become little more than a helpless vegetable, how can it be right to let them linger on like that indefinitely?


  1. Nick,
    As much as they call it a grand gesture of love, I think senility must have much to do with it. If he hasn't completely lost it, he would have tried something else, uhm, I don't know maybe just inject her with something or feed her rat poison or something you know. I mean no matter how much of a vegetable she has become, and no matter whether she can't recognize him, HE can, and how does one shoot another, just like that, let alone a loved one, partner for life. I will repeat, my opinion is that he lost it, completely.
    And that's just atrocious not really a gesture of love. It gave me goosebumps as I was reading.
    Stranger things have happened...

  2. I read about this story in the British press, it's strange that it's not being covered here in Italian as much. Most Italians I speak to haven't heard about it. They seem to prefer to think this kind of thing only happens in America.

  3. Gaye - I didn't mention that he was an ex-policeman and had firearms training so perhaps he found shooting the easiest way to do it. Rat poison sounds pretty grim. I don't know about lost it, but maybe, to use the old phrase, the balance of his mind was disturbed because of the terrible situation.

    Red - It was in La Repubblica and some other Italian papers on December 2, but I haven't seen any follow-up coverage. If it was the UK, he'd probably have a lucrative book deal arranged by now....

  4. Gosh, I don't know if I'd be able to do something like that. But then, I can probably say that because I've never been driven to that level of despair and desperation over my husband. What an awful tragedy.

  5. An old man, in despair, worn down by 12 years of dealing with Alzheimers, even if one didn't condone it, one can surely understand his actions.
    It's a cliche I know, but if I let one of my animals reach such poor quality of life,or if they had a terminal cancer and were in pain I would be condemned for not having given them a merciful release. To make such a decision, being aware of the consequences to himself was the last loving act he could do for her.

  6. I think it's a quietly kept fact that couples have been doing this for ages although shooting your spouse like a rabid dog hardly seems loving.

  7. Liz - that's it, if you've never been in that situation, it's hard to know how you would respond.

    Herschelian - Hi there! That's exactly what I think, if she were an animal, it would be unthinkable to let her suffer indefinitely. But somehow for a human, staying alive is seen as more important than what sort of life they actually have.

    Medbh - I think that's true, it's been going on for a long time on the quiet, and probably more often than we know. As I said, probably the reason he chose shooting was because he was an ex-cop with firearms training.

  8. Nick, what a thought provoking post, as usual, thank you.

    It is a desperate situation to be in. I have no real sense of how I would feel in his shoes and the extent of the anguish and frustration that would have built up over the years.

  9. It's interesting that several of us agree we just couldn't predict our response, that we would have to be in that situation before we could know exactly how to deal with it. But yes, the anguish and frustration must have been overwhelming.

  10. Guns are just so awfully violent. An overdose of medicine seems much more kind.
    I was thinking of the Quietus medicine from "Children of Men."
    Brilliant pro-feminist film, btw.

  11. I guess what troubles me about it Nick is the fact he took so many attempts at it (for a supposed gun expert) surely surely there was a better method, as a cop he would have known.

  12. Medbh - yes, I agree guns are violent and a powerful medicine would be gentler, but at least it was quick and effective, which is the main thing.

    www - you're right, it took him three shots, but I gather it was only a few minutes overall. And I suppose getting hold of the right medicine would have been much trickier.

  13. I hadn't heard about this, it didn't make its way onto the TV news anyway. He must have been so desperate. I'm with Herschelian, I can't understand why it's considered kind to put down animals that are in pain and have no quality of life or hope of recovery, while people have to be kept alive by any artificial means possible, for as long as possible, even if they are no longer sentient.

  14. Exactly, why are animals treated better than human beings? Maybe because of the crazy religious idea that suffering is ennobling and enriches the soul. Phooey.

  15. Ugh ex-cop eh? I think I would hate to be in his bad books for anything then.
    I read a story once, this guy was visiting his wife in the nursing home. She had Alzheimers and it got so bad that she didn't even have a single moment that she remembered him. They asked him why he keeps visiting him when she no longer even remembers him. And he replies "Because I remember her".
    So, no excuse does it for me as far as this man's action is concerned and although I can only imagine how hard it has been, I can't accept that he SHOT her and like WWW said, he had to do it more than once. Did he despise her or really love her...

  16. I do respect your opinion, Gaye. As I said, it must be an agonising situation to deal with and I'm sure we would all have very different responses and attitudes. I suppose it depends very much on your relationship with the person, how much they are suffering and what you think they themselves would want to do.

  17. This story affected me greatly because my husband has very early onset Alzheimer's. I know it will get worse because it is a relentless disease that picks off the different parts of the brain like a sharpshooter, but there is no roadmap, nor do I have any previous experience with it.

    While I can utterly sympathize with Mr. Bini's hopelessness and grief, I cannot imagine pulling the trigger on someone I love, no matter what.

    Still, the fault is not with him but with society that makes no provision for ending such misery humanely.

  18. I'm so sorry to hear about your husband, that's terrible news. I can only wish you courage and strength in dealing with it. As you say, the problem here is a society that doesn't provide for a humane end - and even actively opposes it.