Barbara Mancini is an emergency room nurse who did not seek to become an aid-in-dying advocate. But she is one now, after her outrageous experience with the criminal justice system over this sensitive end-of-life issue.
On February 13, 2013, she was arrested for giving her terminally ill father his vial of prescription morphine, which he had requested and promptly drank. Two hours later, the hospice nurse called the cops, her 93 year old father Joe Yourshaw was taken to the hospital (a place he explicitly said in his advance medical directives he did not want to go), and Barbara was hauled to jail. Her bail was set at $100,000. The charge was aiding an attempted suicide.
The hospice service had continually given Joe Yourshaw minimal doses of morphine, 2.5 mg, not nearly enough to ease his pain. In their charts, they often noted he was, “comfortable, despite pain.” The man was in pain! Hospice of Central Pennsylvania provided poor care to a man who only wanted to die at home and be kept comfortable, free of pain. When he was taken to the hospital, he was drowsy. The EMTs asked Joe if he was in pain, he said no – probably for the first time in weeks.
The prosecutors of this case included a “pro-life coroner” and a DA who’s goal was conviction. Mancini was offered a plea deal, which would count as a conviction. She declined. The news media went crazy over the arrest and the case. Not one opinion writer expressed interest in supporting the prosecutor’s position. Exactly one year later after Joe Yourshaw’s death, the case was dismissed, with a 46-page ruling, due to “a lack of competent evidence.” Mancini has spent more than $100,000 on legal fees fighting this case.
At a Compassion & Choices talk to nursing school students and interested members of the general public yesterday, Barbara Mancini outlined four elements related to this case: The poor care provided by Hospice of Central Pennsylvania; the current laws on the books related to end-of-life and aid-in-dying; the criminal justice system; and politics.
The key take-away points Barbara Mancini made:
There is no central resource on hospice quality available to families and doctors. Yet, no matter the quality of the care, hospices get paid for daily care by Medicare/Medicaid. Do your research before selecting a hospice, and ask lots of questions. Compassion & Choices provides questions you need to ask. Find out what those questions are by calling 1-800-247-7421.
She became an aid-in-dying activist, because what happened to her can happen again in the many states that do not have physician aid-in-dying laws like Oregon and Washington. In a recent poll, 74% of Americans expressed support for aid-in-dying.
There need to be more laws passed supporting aid-in-dying. We have a long way to go in improving end-of-life care in the United States. She was asked if she was going to pursue a civil case against the hospice that provided such poor care to her father. She said no, that the memories are too painful for her 84 year old mother, and she would not put her through more legal procedures.
Today in Albuquerque, a panel of three judges will hear oral arguments on New Mexico’s consideration of aid-in-dying. This harkens back to Judge Nan Nash’s ruling last year on New Mexican’s constitutional right to a peaceful death. It’s part of the state constitution that says we have the right to “seek and achieve happiness.”
That right related to physician aid-in-dying only applies right now in Bernalillo County. We’ll see where physician aid-in-dying in New Mexico goes from here very soon.