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Snelling Murder-Suicide Puts End-of-Life Decisions in National Spotlight

The love story and deaths of the Fogelsville, Pa., couple are making headlines across the country.

The 60-year love story and deaths of former Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Chairman Charles Snelling and his ailing wife, Adrienne, are making headlines from Tampa to Seattle for many reasons.

in their Fogelsville, Pa., home Thursday morning. Charles Snelling , the Lehigh County coroner has ruled. His wife's cause of death is still under investigation.

The college sweethearts were each 81. They are survived by five children and 11 grandchildren.

The murder-suicide follows the deteriorating health of Adrienne, an accomplished fine arts photographer diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease six years ago. Charles Snelling wrote a poignant biographical column for the New York Times in 2011 describing the couple's caregiver role reversal during his wife's illness.

The Snelling family issued a statement saying it believes Charles acted out of "deep devotion and profound love." Family members said he "could no longer bear to see the love of his life deteriorate further," and chose to end her life and then his own. The couple had made their end-of-life plans known to those closest to them.

"All of our lives, Dad and I have talked over our end of life beliefs. We are both in agreement that neither one of us wants to live after all reasonable hope for a good life is over. … We have had such a great life together and with all of you," Adrienne Snelling wrote in letters to her children and grandchildren in 2009, according to the Washington Post.

The Snelling case is drawing attention to the anguish faced by families of Alzheimer's patients — even those, like Snelling, who are wealthy enough to afford private nursing care and who have a well-established support system of family and friends, according to The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call.

The death of Charles Snelling is also being noted in the greater Washington area because of his years of service on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. President George W. Bush nominated Snelling to the post in 2003. Snelling served as chairman in 2010 and 2011.

The authority controls Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports and oversees construction of Metro's Silver Line, which will connect East Falls Church to Ashburn.

And in Vermont, Snelling's passing is news because his late brother, Richard, was governor of the state in the mid-1970s.

Snelling was born into a successful family, graduated from Lehigh University and became an inventor and entrepreneur. He held 20 patents, and was active in Republican politics in Pennsylvania.

Pamela Varkony, who has been Snelling's friend for 25 years,

"I look at this as an act of strength and of choice, not of weakness," said Varkony, a motivational speaker, writer and women's advocate. "He wanted to control the end. He did not want to risk leaving her alone."

She added: "I will always remember him as a great gentleman with tremendous intelligence and generosity of spirit. He was a true renaissance man. He was a writer. He was a scientist. He was a poet."

The Snellings' joint obituary ran Sunday in The Morning Call.

Jason Q April 05, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Doctor Kevorkian was perhaps ahead of his time in his struggle to get our society to deal with these situations instead of leaving the most vulnerable to fend for themselves. As the baby-boomer generation gets older, and more sons and daughters need to witness the struggle firsthand, maybe then will the law get out of the way of personal freedom.
Virginia Burton April 05, 2012 at 09:11 PM
I wish people would stop calling this "murder-suicide" when it clearly should be "assisted suicide-suicide." Mrs. Snelling had made her wishes clear, but was no longer able to accomplish her goal alone. Mr. Snelling ended her suffering and then took his own life, rather than continue on to a miserable old age without her. They were a very brave couple and Mr. Snelling should not be branded a murderer.
Shaun Courtney April 05, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Thanks for your comments, Virginia.
Shaun Courtney April 05, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Jason, thanks for your input.

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