Apr 19, 2018

Dementia and Mercy Killings: Are these Crimes or Acts of Desperation

Earlier in the year, an elderly Perth man was accused of killing his wife in their suburban home.

He was in the later stages of cancer and his wife had advanced dementia.

Harold Barclay, 85,  was charged with the murder or his wife of 63 years, a woman he was described as “devoted” to.

According to their neighbours, who had known them for years, had said they never heard them argue.

Though a motive has not been made clear, it’s been suggested that he did it out of desperation.

Both their healths were failing them and he may have feared for her quality of life as he could not care for her.

Maybe he saw how the condition was deteriorating her health and saw that she was struggling with great pain and difficulties.

From his perspective – as desperate as it may be – this may have been an act of love.

“It happens when people decide they have no options,” Professor Max Kamien from Doctors for Assisted Dying Choice WA said.

Barclay is now in hospital, under police guard.

Not a Unique Story

As tragic as the Barclays’ situation is, sadly it is not a uniques story. There are many couples in the past where one spouse end’s the other’s life because of their struggles with dementia.

In the UK, a 96 year old man killing his wife, who lived with dementia, after she told him she no longer wished to live.

Jack Tindall pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his 88 year old wife, Ernestine. He was handed a suspended jail term.

Police said the couple had been married for 68 years and were “devoted to one another”.

In France, an 87 year old man was sentenced to five years in prison for killing his wife at their home in the North of France.

Married for 60 years, Rémo Cipriani’s wife, Anne-Marie, had been living with dementia for two years.

Cipriani said he could not see his wife suffer any longer, and in 2015, he suffocated her with a plastic bag in their bathroom.

Afterwards, he tried to kill himself but was later found unconscious but still alive.

Another couple in Cornwall, UK, found themselves in a similar situation.

Douglas Addison, 89, attacked his wife Mary and then smothered her at their retirement village in February of last year.

Married for 67 years, Douglas himself was in the earlier stages of dementia and was unable to cope with looking after his wife.

During a two-day trial, the jury heard how Addison had devoted his retirement to caring for his wife but could not cope with her severe dementia and his developing condition.

All these husbands were devoted to their wives. The struggles they each must have faced would be immeasurable.

Dementia can be a challenging condition for any couple to live with. And the real tragedy is that these husbands felt they had no support and that their wives were struggling to live.

This perhaps is a reflection of the lack of support in the community for people caring for someone with a life limiting disease and or dementia.

If you or someone you know is struggling at the moment, there is help out there it’s just a matter of finding where you can get support. Make contact with someone you close to you or one of the services below to talk things through.


Lifeline’s 24-hour telephone crisis line 13 11 14 is pronounced ‘thirteen eleven fourteen’.

Emergency Respite

For emergency respite care, contact a Commonwealth Respite and Carelink CentreOpens in a new window(CRCC) on 1800 052 222 (1800 059 059 outside business hours). You can contact your nearest CRCC, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You may also be able to access other support, including crisis counselling, through your state-based carer association. Call Carers Australia on 1800 242 636.

Emergency – Ambulance, Fire or Police

In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)

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