End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Barbara Coombs Lee

Texas Hospital Keeps Pregnant Body Functioning: Where Could This Lead?

By Barbara Coombs Lee, PA, FNP, JD, President Compassion & Choices

Marlise Munoz is dead. She died Nov. 26, probably of a pulmonary embolus, when she was 14 weeks pregnant. But John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas refuses to turn off the machines and let the family claim the body of their beloved.

This family is grieving a tragic loss. Their grief is all the more devastating because the firm wishes of their loved one – the woman paramedic, the daughter and wife who knew she never wanted to be maintained in an unconscious state – mean nothing. Texas law says life support may not be withdrawn from a pregnant patient and the hospital chooses to characterize Munoz’s dead body as a patient on life support.

Medical ethicists across the nation call it bad law and erroneous interpretation, but that doesn’t change this outrageous situation. More

Compassion Is Not a Crime

By Barbara Coombs Lee
Compassion & Choices
Aug 2, 2013

Click here to sign the petition demanding the Attorney General drop this unjust case.

Yesterday, August 1, a Pennsylvania woman named Barbara Mancini endured the first of what may be many days in court, declaring her innocence and fighting for her liberty. An aggressive criminal prosecution by the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office is underway, and she must respond to charges that acting out of love and compassion for her dying father was a crime.

Last February, 93-year-old Joe Yourshaw was under hospice care in his hometown of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was dying from multi-system failure, end-stage diabetes, extensive heart and vascular disease, stroke and kidney failure. He took morphine prescribed by his hospice physicians to relieve his pain. His daughter Barbara is a nurse, and she was helping to care for him.

The police report and criminal complaint make claims about a crime based on motives and intentions. But the undisputed facts are these: Barbara was at his bedside when he drank the partially filled bottle of morphine and lost consciousness. A hospice nurse arrived, and the hospice called 911. EMTs transported Joe to the hospital, over objections that he wanted to die at home. At the hospital they injected Narcan to counteract the morphine and he woke up, irate at finding himself hospitalized. Hospital staff provided extensive medical care, including morphine, until he died there four days later. A coroner declared Joe died from “morphine toxicity” and pronounced his death a homicide. More

Nurse Charged With Assisting In Her Father’s Death

By Richard Knox
NPR News
July 31, 2013

A Philadelphia nurse has been charged with assisted suicide for allegedly providing her 93-year-old father with a lethal dose of morphine.

Authorities say Barbara Mancini, 57, told a hospice nurse and a police officer on Feb. 7 that she provided a vial of morphine to her father, Joe Yourshaw, to hasten his death.

Mancini and her attorneys acknowledge she handed the medication to her father, but maintain she never said she intended to help him end his life and was only trying to help her father ease his pain — an act they say is legally protected, even if it causes death.

“Barbara did not, would not, would never hand medicine to her father with the sole purpose — or with even a remote purpose — that he was going to intentionally end his life on her watch,” Mancini’s lawyer, Frederic Fanelli, told reporters during a teleconference Wednesday. “It’s ridiculous, it’s abhorrent that they would even say that.” More

One Woman’s future depends on AG Kane’s constitutional consistency: As I See It

By Barbara Coombs Lee and Kathryn Tucker
The Patriot News
August 1, 2013

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is getting political heat for saying that she will not defend the state’s ban on marriage equality in a federal lawsuit, calling the prohibition “wholly unconstitutional.”

She explained to The Washington Post: “If there is a law that I feel that does not conform with the Pennsylvania state constitution and the U.S. Constitution, then I ethically cannot do that [defend it] as a lawyer.”

As attorneys, we agree it is unethical to defend unconstitutional laws. It follows that Kane’s office should also not pursue a case that impinges on an individual’s constitutional rights. That’s why her office should drop an unsupportable assisted suicide case against a Philadelphia woman. Her preliminary hearing is today. More

“Doctor, Please Help me Die”

by Barbara Coombs Lee
May 15, 2013

Dr. Tom Preston, a Compassion & Choices leader in Seattle, chose these poignant words for the title of his new book. They are powerful words, gripping even on paper. Imagine them emerging from the lips of a patient, perhaps one whom the doctor has treated over decades, who is now dying of cancer. They strike right at the core of a physician’s identity, training and moral compass.

Preston knows well that each person, each healer and each caregiver responds to such a request from patient or loved one from the deepest parts of their own authentic being. He begins his book quoting Dumbledore, who in the last Harry Potter book pleaded with Snape to cut his dying short. “You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” the wizard tells his reluctant friend. So it is with every doctor In America. More