Mercy killing case puts focus on 'death with dignity'

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- The elderly Arizona man at the center of a so-called 'mercy killing' case was sentenced to probation, not prison, on Friday.

The judge told the court, "The facts in this case hit home for all of us," as he handed down the sentence to 86-year-old George "Scotty" Sanders.

Sanders shot his wife, at her request, in their Sun City home in 2012. Her health was failing, gangrene was setting in, and she was heading for a nursing home.

Ginger Sanders died five days after the shooting.

"Our organization in no way condones the violent method they chose to end her life, but neither of them believed they had any choice," said Freda Anderson, who runs the non-profit Compassion and Choices Arizona.  

The organization advocates for physician-assisted death in the case of terminally ill patients, and aims to change the law to prevent families like the Sanders from being put in this position.

Anderson says with an aging population, the struggles of the Sanders family will become more frequent across the country.

Attorneys familiar with 'mercy killing' cases say this case, and its sentence of probation, will not set precedent.

"I know the prosecutor's office doesn't want to set precedent with this case, but as a society I think we do understand what [Sanders] did, and, to a degree, we accept what he did," said attorney David Kephart.

Kephart defended the Final Exit Network in a similar lawsuit surrounding euthanasia.

"I think there are a lot more suicides for terminally ill people than we know about," Kephart said. "It's time the law caught up with the realities of medicine. We can assist people in dying with dignity."