Mercy for man who wanted 'peaceful end'

Karen Sweeney
An 88-year-old man who tried to give his wife a fatal overdose of insulin won't go to jail

After watching her parents suffer and die from Alzheimer's and dementia, Heather Sugar told her family she wanted to be "put out of her misery" if she ever got that bad.

A decade ago she started to forget where she lived and where and when to pick up her grandchildren from school.

In 2013 she was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and for the next five years her husband Joseph, now 88, watched her slip away.

They moved into an aged care facility in Melbourne's east together. Mrs Sugar's condition deteriorated until she could no longer recognise her family, control her outbursts or wash and dress herself.

On December 17, 2018 the couple, married for more than 50 years, were due to be separated so Mrs Sugar could live in a secure dementia ward.

But two days before that as they lay in bed together, Mr Sugar gave them both an overdose of the insulin used to treat his diabetes.

"I would prefer to end this peacefully," he wrote in a letter, sending love to his adult son and daughter.

He thought the overdose would result in a peaceful death for them both. He woke the next morning to find it hadn't.

Both he and Mrs Sugar survived. After initially telling paramedics, family and police that Mrs Sugar had given herself the dose of insulin, Mr Sugar was charged with attempted murder.

He was convicted in Victoria's Supreme Court on Monday after pleading guilty, but Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said he would serve no jail time if he was of good behaviour for two years.

"A sentence may be both just and merciful," she said.

The couple's children Audrey and David told the court they were immensely sad that Mr Sugar thought has actions were his only option.

"They speak of the intelligent, loving, active, funny and resourceful woman Heather was, before Alzheimer's robbed her of her personality and her dignity," Justice Hollingworth said.

"They describe Heather's fear of losing her mind, like her parents had, and how she had often expressed the wish that she wanted to be 'put out of her misery' if she ended up like them."

Mrs Sugar now lives in a high care unit. Mr Sugar has only limited visiting rights, which the judge said he finds extremely distressing.

The family say they now want to spend the little time they have left, together.

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