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The Right to Die

By Karen Devine, KESQ News Channel 3 News Anchor, kdevine@kesq.com
Published On: Nov 12 2012 09:53:02 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 13 2012 07:00:00 AM CST

Assisted suicide, the right to die, both tough topics.  A local example of a death decision that led to accusations of murder and the arrest of 87 year old Bill Bentinck. 

Reporter: Karen Devine

Photographer: Timothy Kiley

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -

On July 2, 2012 Bill Bentinck's life dramatically changed in a way he could have never imagined. His wife Lynda of nearly 30 years, suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, a form of emphysema, was confined to a bedroom, hooked up to an oxygen catheter, taking multiple prescription medications and under the watchful eye of hospice care. Bill says, that day, she made a life ending decision that took him by surprise. When Bill went in to check on his wife he noticed she had removed her nasal catheter that provided the oxygen that kept her alive. He says he asked her, "Do you know your catheter's been removed?" She said, "Yes." He then said, "Do you want me to replace it?" She said, "No, please don't." And Bill then asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" She said, "Yes." Bill says, prior to that day, Lynda insisted that the "Do Not Resuscitate" form was taped to the mirror so anyone coming in or out of the room could see it. Because he knew her wish was to die, he held her hand and watched the love of his life peacefully slip away.

According the Palm Springs Police Sergeant Mike Kovaleff, the reason for the arrest was because Bill Bentinck was the primary care giver and statements were made and there was a failure to act. Kovaleff went on to say that there was some other information that they received at the time from him that ultimately led to their decision. Bill says the first time he was told that he was being charged with murder was while he was in a holding cell at the Palm Springs police department. It took him by complete surprise. According to Sgt. Koveleff, the charge of murder was based on the fact that assisted suicide is illegal in the state of California and Mr. Bentinck's failure to replace the nasal catheter his wife allegedly removed could be considered a felony.

Another point of contention was the alcohol Mr. Bentinck was serving his wife. Bill says, "She would want to have an alcoholic drink that was two shots of vodka and a shot of orange juice or water. So I asked hospice people is that o.k.? And, they said it's o.k., if it makes her more comfortable, that's o.k." Bill's daughter thought the idea that it was irresponsible of her dad to give alcohol to Lynda was ridiculous. She said, "I can't imagine a situation where a person is choosing to be more comfortable and you tell them I'm sorry, you can't be." Dian says she knew her step mom was dying. She says she was privy to Lynda's wishes not to be resuscitated if her health deteriorated to a certain point. But, the real shocker was finding out her dad had been arrested and charged with murder. She couldn't believe he was being held on a million dollars bail. An 87 year old man who had one traffic ticket his entire life, had always paid his taxes and couldn't out run anybody to save his life.

Bill was transferred to three different jails in a 72 hour period. His phone, watch and money had been taken away in Palm Springs. He couldn't get a hold of family.  Bill says his medical condition was being ignored.  He said, "I had told them here at the house and at the jail that I have to self catheterize at least twice a day.  My bladder doesn't work quite right.  And, to drain the bladder you have to catheterize."  It was a full 24 hours before his medical condition was addressed.  Needless to say he was in pain and uncomfortable.  Behind the scenes, Bill's son and daughter were trying to find him and find out what was going to happen next with their dad.  On July 5th, three days after the arrest, the District Attorneys office decided there was insufficient evidence to try him for murder or aiding, encouraging or advising his wife to commit suicide.  Bill was released and the first person he saw was his son. "I opened the door, there's my son sitting right there and oh golly, what a relief."  Bill was free, but was told that authorities were waiting for the coroner and toxicology reports to determine if other charges would be filed.  We now know, the toxicology report indicated Lynda had a high blood alcohol level, but the coroner did rule the cause of death as C.O.P.D.  Bill believes his wife would have been shocked if she knew all that has happened since her death.  He says, "She would think it's unbelievable.  The reason she did it the way she did it was to avoid any possibility that I could have been involved."