No Exit

In South Florida the new killing fields are filled with sick, depressed senior citizens who make self-inflicted death their final ally

For the depressed elderly, there is help available throughout South Florida, including the Henderson Mental Health Center in Fort Lauderdale, which has a 24-hour walk-in clinic and a mobile unit with two teams of counselors who cover all of Broward and make house calls.

"There are solutions for people; there are mental health services," McIntosh says. "There are ways to lessen the psychological pain, and it's important that people know that."

But even McIntosh concedes that treatment is far from foolproof. In the case of many ill seniors, particularly those who have lost spouses, depression is normal, and difficult to treat. In the case of someone like Sam Stoller, not even a professional aide staying at his house was enough to dissuade him from taking his own life. As his suicide note indicates, he'd made up his mind.

Rose Johnson

So had Kantofsky. But his sister insists he was never depressed -- just realistic. She says she initially tried to talk him out of it but came to believe that he had made his decision and that it was a sound one. She didn't want to see him be tortured by cancer, either. "He told me, 'If I had the power, I would tell the people in government that a person has the right to die with dignity. He should get an injection so he can die as a human being and not as skin and bones.'"

Kantofsky is dead, and the man he considered a hero, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, is in prison on a murder conviction. But the issue of assisted suicide is expected to become only more pressing. The White House issued a press release last year stating that the number of senior citizens in the United States will double by the year 2030, rocketing from 34.3 million to 69.4 million. Thanks to technology these seniors will likely lead longer lives.

McIntosh knows about these numbers and says they make him literally cringe. On a personal level, the psychologist says he doesn't believe that doctor-assisted suicide should be legalized, in part because of his Christian beliefs.

Still, hearing Kantofsky's story seems to make McIntosh ambivalent on the right-to-die issue, at least when it comes to the former shuffleboard champ at Century Village. "What he did is very hard to argue with," McIntosh says. "It's very hard to come out against what he did. These stories need to be told so that everyone can understand the issues involved in this debate, because this problem is definitely not going to go away. It's only going to get worse."

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address:

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