If You Lost Your Ability To Play Music Would You...?

Victor R

Endeavor to Persevere
Platinum Supporting Member
Musician's sister charged in assisted suicide case

(CALIFORNIA) -- In the eyes of prosecutors, June Hartley is a killer.
Her brother James, a Lodi blues musician severely disabled by a series of strokes in 2006, may have wanted to die. He may even have begged her to help him kill himself.
But if she helped him suffocate by helium last December, as police believe, his sister is liable under California law.
So, in a rare move, prosecutors in San Joaquin County charged June Hartley on Friday with assisted suicide. If convicted, she could spend up to six years in prison.
"It really is a tragedy," said Dan MacHugh, James Hartley's friend and former mate in the popular Studebaker Blues Band, which plays around Lodi, Stockton and Modesto. Hartley, 45, was the group's lead guitarist.
Hartley was a big, occasionally gruff man and a skilled musician, his friend said. "Jimmy loved to perform, and he was really, really good," said MacHugh. "He was the first guy to the gig and the last one to leave.
"After the stroke, he was paralyzed and in constant pain. He was very, very depressed. When I heard he had died, I thought, 'Thank goodness for Jim and his family.' But it's very sad what has happened with his sister."
Cases like these, in which a suffering person dies allegedly by the hand of a loved one, stir emotions and debate when they become headlines. But in various ways, in the quiet of hospital rooms and private homes, "mercy killings" probably happen far more often than most people imagine, legal and ethics scholars said.
Assisted suicide is legal only in Oregon, Washington and Montana. In those states, terminally ill patients can choose to have someone help to end their lives, but only under very specific circumstances. In California, several attempts at passing similar laws have failed. As of this year, however, a law is on the books requiring doctors and nurses who diagnose a patient with a terminal illness to provide patients, upon request, with information and counseling regarding legal "end of life" options.
The Hartley case is unusual because few such incidents are reported or made public, observers said.
"Police do need to investigate these things. The courts do need to figure out the facts," said Arthur Caplan, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. "But often, no charges are ever filed because these cases are difficult to prove, and judges and juries are very reluctant to punish people for a claim of what essentially is considered a mercy killing. It's pretty rare that anyone ends up in jail."
One exception was Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan doctor who willingly went to prison after helping patients kill themselves in order to make a political statement.
McGeorge School of Law professor Michael Vitello said June Hartley is fortunate, from a legal point of view, that she was charged with assisted suicide and not manslaughter or murder, which would carry longer sentences.
"That's good news for her, I suppose," Vitello said. "Still, for my money it's a bad use of resources to pursue someone like this," barring some hidden and nefarious motive.
June Hartley, 43, has yet to fully answer in court to the charges against her. Her arraignment has been continued to Friday.
Police and prosecutors have said that James Hartley, who along with his sister grew up in Lodi and attended public schools there, was felled by a series of strokes in 2006. He lost most of his mobility, as well as his speech and hearing, investigators said, and during several police calls to his home had asked police to help him die.
"He made it very clear that he didn't want to live this way," said another band mate and close friend, Mike Stewart.
Hartley's sister and his mother, Diane, moved in with him to care for him, said MacHugh. "They were always there for him. Basically, they put their own lives on hold to take care of him."
MacHugh, Stewart and band member Rick Duncan visited as often as they could. "It would tear you up to see him," MacHugh said. "He would start out with a joke, but it always turned to tears. It was horrible."
In the months before his death, said Stewart, Hartley "was asking all of his immediate, close friends to help him" end it all. "We would change the subject and move onto something else, but it always came back to that."
June Hartley reported her brother's death to police on Dec. 8, and they became suspicious about the helium tank and his ability to inhale gas without help. On Friday, the sister appeared in San Joaquin Superior Court and was officially charged with a crime before she was released on her own recognizance.
Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, an education and advocacy group that advises people on such issues, said she feels for the Hartleys.
"The real tragedy is that this family, this brother and sister, had to deal with the situation in secrecy and isolation. As a society, instead of supporting people facing very, very difficult decisions like these, we abandon them. When 'aid in dying' is legal, those options get discussed, and that is important."
But not everyone has sympathy with June Hartley.
"The sister made a grave mistake," said Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, which opposes all forms of assisted suicide. "This lady cannot get off scot-free for killing her brother. Charges must be pressed.
"It needs to be said loud and clear that suicide is never the answer, and helping someone who is depressed to commit suicide is a crime. What the depressed person needs is counseling, not death."
Stewart, James Hartley's band mate and friend, said he hopes the sister will be spared harsh punishment.
"I understand the law and that there has to be punishment, but I hope that this will be handled with compassion and understanding," he said. "What June did was all for Jimmy."



Before this thread winds up, lemme get me 0.02 in...

NONE of us know where he was, or where she was, at the time this transpired.

We can go 'round and 'round the conjecturousel, but the fact is that none of us have anything concrete to contribute to this topic.

Carry on...


Gold Supporting Member
I'm predicting this will break the rules eventually as assisted suicide gets into religious debate typically. It's a sad story though. Who can know where this guy (and his sister) were coming from and what they had to deal with.

Dave Orban

Platinum Supporting Member
I think this was well beyond the "losing his ability to play music" scenario...


if you've ever been to lodi... you are halfway to suicide anyway... ccr even wrote a song about it....

Kill myself? not extreme enough.

a fate far worse... take up the harmonica.

whats up with the one guy saying "she made a grave mistake."

Stories this sad and depressing need some lightening up. like everyone else said... we can't know their thing and the best thing is to stay out of their thing.


Silver Supporting Member
I'm predicting this will break the rules eventually as assisted suicide gets into religious debate typically. It's a sad story though. Who can know where this guy (and his sister) were coming from and what they had to deal with.

Topics like this usually end up that way.

With the laws in this country (state, federal, or otherwise) it's not always clear just who is being protected and what they are being protected from.


Gold Supporting Member
Such a tough subject. On one extreme is the Terry Shiavo case, where an autopsy confirmed that she was brain dead, and just kept alive due to family/medical complications.

On the other hand, you have young people who kill themselves in alarming numbers due to emotional pain, but no real physical problems. In the middle somewhere, we have this guy. Clearly, counseling could help all.

I am all for the sanctity of life, but at what cost for individuals like James Hartley? My wife has lived in debilitating, chronic pain for 9 years, so I get to see stuff like this on an almost daily basis. What keeps her going is our daughters. So tough to know what is best. I tend to withhold an opinion on these things.

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