Watch Barbara's Story
I am among the millions of baby boomers who either have helped provide home hospice care for their dying parents or will do so in the near future. Until July 2013, I spent several decades as an emergency room nurse in Philadelphia, so I am very familiar with end-of-life medical issues.
February 2014 marked the end of a yearlong nightmare in which I was arrested and prosecuted on the felony charge of aiding the suicide of my terminally ill 93-year-old father. I handed my father his legally prescribed morphine at his request, and he consumed the contents of the partially filled one-ounce vial. He was in severe pain, and perhaps he meant to end his life.
My father’s home hospice care provider and the police summarily invalidated his legal end-of-life directives, in which he asked not to be resuscitated and named me as his healthcare proxy. He died four days later in a hospital, where he contracted pneumonia and was subjected to exactly the treatment he specified he never wanted.
I was suspended from my nursing job and incurred legal expenses of more than $100,000. Had I been convicted, I would have faced a maximum of 10 years in prison. Thankfully, a judge dismissed the charge, citing a lack of evidence and a prosecution based on hearsay, speculation and conjecture. The attorney general decided not to appeal, but stated that unless the state law was amended, she “would continue to enforce the law as it currently exists.”
Opponents of aid-in-dying legislation often invoke the slippery-slope argument — meaning it will lead to abuses of elderly and vulnerable people. I have been on the other side of that slippery slope. I am not exaggerating when I say it caused untold suffering and anguish to my father, me, my family, and the friends and co-workers who stood beside us and witnessed that suffering.
If Pennsylvania had had a death-with-dignity law when my father reached the end of his life, he would have had the option to utilize it, and my family and I could have avoided this horrific experience.
That’s why I will be taking the attorney general’s advice to change the law and work to pass death-with-dignity legislation in Pennsylvania. The worst thing lawmakers can do is nothing.