In California, assisting in a suicide is a felony. The law was written to keep anyone from aiding, advising or encouraging suicide but is rarely enforced. A Lodi woman convicted in 2009 of helping her brother, a stroke victim, take his life was sentenced to community service.
Federal prosecutors in San Diego recently decided against filing an assisted suicide charge against a 92-year-old El Cajon woman who sold "suicide kits" through the mail. Instead she was charged with tax evasion for failing to report income from the kits; a judge last week accepted a plea bargain that included probation and a promise to stop selling the kits.
In 1999, Dumanis' predecessor charged a retired Navy officer, Thomas May, with the murder of his wife, Hazel, who was dying from ALS, known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He had carried her to their closed garage and started the car. He held her and had hoped to die with her, but he survived. Before his trial, he took a fatal overdose of pills.
The May case unnerved everyone, according to the lead investigator, Sue Fasching, a San Diego police sergeant who is now retired. Back at the police station, Fasching recalled, officers said they had no choice but to arrest the husband but admitted that if they were in his situation, they would have done something similar.
Dumanis, who is running for mayor of San Diego, declined to discuss the Purdy case or her philosophy about assisted suicide.
After his arrest, Purdy never saw his wife again. By the time he got home, her body had been taken to the medical examiner's office. She never made it to UC San Diego as an organ donor.
"I don't know anyone in the family who wants to see Alan in court over this," said John Muster, a high school principal in Berkeley who is married to Purdy's daughter Catherine.
Purdy had his wife's body cremated. He attended a memorial for her at a Unitarian church. He didn't go when her children scattered her ashes in the Pacific Ocean; he said he didn't have the strength.