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Editorial: The agony of a heroin overdose that might have been prevented

Getty Images/Stockbyte

Getty Images/Stockbyte

Newton resident Jim Kasper has been working for three years to find justice after his 24-year-old son died of a heroin overdose while two people watched television in the same room, ignoring the danger his son was in.

The sad — and possibly preventable — death of Harry Kasper in a Brighton apartment in April 2011 deserves a full investigation, particularly in light of what authorities call a heroin epidemic in this state.

It also raises questions about the extent to which we as a society — and our laws — are confused and ambivalent about matters of life and death.

Two people who let a young man suffering from an accidental overdose die without intervening to help him faced misdemeanor charges that brought a $5 fine and not a day of jail time. Compare that to the criminal prosecution family members can face when they make the painful decision to help — or simply bear witness to — sick loved ones who choose to take their own lives.

In several essays submitted to the Gazette’s Dignity Project 2014, writers have revealed their strong desire to be with loved ones as they die a humane and compassionate death, but have outlined justifiable fears that they will face dire consequences if they do so.

Something does not add up here. The laws do not make sense and societal attitudes about death and dying need serious examination.

The case of Harry Kasper and his father’s heartbreaking quest to do right by him was documented in a lengthy June 8 story in the Boston Globe. The story chronicles Jim Kasper’s efforts to uncover the details of the April 9, 2011, death of his son Harry, who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 9.

Kasper learned from police that the two men who were with Harry when he died would face misdemeanor charges of failure to report a death and improper disposal of a human body. He hired an attorney and filed a civil suit against the men so he could obtain more details about his son’s death through the deposition process.

What he found out was horrific. After helping his son shoot up heroin, the two men did nothing as Harry became sick, moaned and writhed and called out, according to the Globe’s account.

They continued watching television as he fell unconscious, turned blue, groaned in discomfort and died. They did not assist him in any way, nor did they call 911 seeking the emergency help he clearly needed. Later they put him in a wheelchair to bring him outside, where they dumped his body in bushes.

Jim Kasper was understandably horrified that the death of his son — possibly preventable if he’d received help in a timely way — brought charges resulting in nothing more than a $5 fine and probation.

As he told the Boston Globe, there are worse penalties for dumping trash or mistreating animals.

Kasper is now getting pro bono help from a Boston attorney in an effort to get new criminal charges filed against the men who did nothing to save his son.

That lawyer, Mark Robinson, a former federal prosecutor and partner at Bingham McCutchen, believes the Legislature should adopt a law that requires heroin users to summon emergency help when someone they are with suffers an overdose, or else face criminal penalties.

A law like that makes sense because it might save the life of someone who did not intend to die.

Laws that thwart family members from being with loved ones as they die do not make sense. As a society we must come to grips with our ambivalence about these matters.

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