Paralyzed after falling from tree, hunter and dad-to-be opts to end life

Posted at 7:16 AM, Nov 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-07 09:16:59-05

By Steve Almasy and Michael Martinez

DECATUR, Indiana (CNN) — It’s a grim topic: What would you want if you were on life support after a life-altering accident? Would you want to live in a wheelchair, or would you want to die?

An Indiana deer hunter and father-to-be who was left paralyzed after falling from a tree chose the latter, state authorities said Wednesday.

Timothy E. Bowers, 32, of Decatur was hunting Saturday afternoon when he fell about 16 feet to the ground from a tree stand, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources said.

Bowers suffered a spine injury and paralysis, authorities said.

On Sunday, he chose “to remove himself from life support systems,” the department said in a statement. He died that evening.

Bowers was a newlywed; he married Abbey Logan on August 3, the Haggard-Sefton & Hirschy Funeral Home of Decatur said on its website. The funeral home said memorials could go to the couple’s Baby Bowers Education Fund.

His widow is expecting a baby, an acquaintance said on the funeral home’s website.

“The last thing he wanted was to be in a wheelchair,” the Indianapolis Star quoted Abbey Bowers as saying Wednesday. “… He would never be able to give hugs, to hold his baby. We made sure he knew that, so he could make a decision. Even if he decided the other thing, the quality of life would’ve been very poor. His life expectancy would be very low.”

“He had such a strong faith that it didn’t surprise me (that he made the decision),” family friend Bill Whitright told CNN. “He was ready to go to heaven, he was ready for God.”

“Tim was like a brother to everyone. He was just a great man. I learned a lot from a 32-year-old kid,” Whitright said.

Medical ethicist Arthur L. Caplan of New York University said Bowers’ death is a reminder that young people need to deal with difficult end-of-life decisions just like older adults.

“I know it’s hard,” he said. “Talk to your friends; talk to your family. Say, ‘This is what I would want.’ ”

It’s best to have the conversations now, he said.

Some people who are asked in the hospital if they want life support removed might change their minds after a few days. In this case, Caplan said, Bowers’ hospital decision matched his prior discussions about living in a wheelchair.

Tributes have flooded the funeral home’s website.

“To the entire family so sorry for your loss,” wrote Dean Dubach. “Tim was a good person. I just talked to him in the grain line. He said he was so happy with life, beautiful wife, baby on the way, business was good, crops were good. God bless the family.”

Bowers owned and ran 5 Points Transmission shop in Decatur, the funeral home said.

“He would do anything for you. He had his transmission business, and if you had a wreck and couldn’t afford to pay him, he would fix it anyway,” Whitright said.

Bowers’ decision to end his life prompted many comments on social media.

“Tim was a great guy” who always took time to help customers in need, Aaron Cowans wrote on Facebook. “I’m guilty of not wearing my safety belt,” he wrote, adding that he hopes everyone will get something good out of the loss.

State conservation officers urge hunters to always wear a safety harness when climbing up or down tree stands and to use a haul line to move equipment up and down.

The state offers a checklist for deer hunters, which includes practicing tree stand climbing and using a safety harness.

This year, Indiana has seen seven tree-stand falls, with Bowers’ fall being the only one classified as a fatality, said conservation officer Lt. William Browne.

In 2012, the state recorded 28 such falls, including one fatality. In 2011, 22 falls occurred, Browne said.

CNN’s Katherine Wojtecki and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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