By Donald Bain, Wednesday, February 5, 2014
IN EACH of the 43 “Murder, She Wrote” novels I’ve written, based on the popular TV show of the same name, a murder is committed. Someone in the prime of life is denied many years of fulfillment and happiness. Toward the end of each book, the murderer is identified through the fictitious Jessica Fletcher’s sleuthing, and justice is served, as it should be.
But then there’s the case in Pennsylvania of Barbara Mancini, an exemplary woman, wife, mother of two teenage children, devoted daughter and nurse who is in serious legal trouble because of an overzealous state attorney general.
She is facing up to a 10-year prison sentence if she is wrongfully convicted for “assisting suicide” for allegedly handing her 93-year old father, Joseph Yourshaw – suffering debilitating pain from end-stage diabetes, heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease and arthritis – his partially filled bottle of legally prescribed morphine to help ease his pain in his final days.
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Following a landmark January ruling in New Mexico’s Second District Court, a 1963 state law against assisted suicide cannot be used to prosecute physicians who prescribe medication for terminally ill patients choosing death with dignity. This ruling immediately protects the medical practice from prosecution in the state’s most populous county. If affirmed by the state’s high court, the ruling will apply across the state.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this ruling. It will reverberate in dozens of states with similar assisted-suicide laws.
With the ACLU of New Mexico, Compassion & Choices (C&C) brought the case to challenge the assisted-suicide statute of New Mexico and to establish that the medical practice of aid in dying for a mentally competent, terminally ill patient is not subject to prosecution under it. The court agreed that to do so would violate fundamental liberty and privacy protections for the people of New Mexico. It found the statute unconstitutional as applied to aid in dying. More
Pam Wald didn’t know much about aid in dying until her husband, Ben, suffering from lung and bone cancer, requested it.
“He was in excruciating pain, down to 118 pounds. He just said, ‘I’m not getting better, Pam.’ I thought, ‘Okay, well maybe tomorrow.’ I was holding out hope for some miracle. Of course, that wasn’t to be. He said to me, ‘You know, I really want to choose the way I end my life, and I want to explore Oregon’s Death With Dignity.’ That was really hard, but I knew it was something I needed to listen to. Hospice gave us a phone number for Compassion & Choices. So that’s where we began; the hardest call I’ve ever made.”
Compassion & Choices volunteers Ani Sinclair and Jane Riggs arrived to help the Walds. “They were my guardian angels,” says Pam. “I was in crises, in a zone just trying to help my husband. Compassion & Choices became my safety net. They could answer my questions; they could look up the forms. The most important thing they said to me was, ‘Pam, we’re going to be with you for whatever you need. Your job is to take care of your husband.’ It was kind of like drowning in the ocean, and they became the life boat. So with that I relaxed enough that I was able to be with Ben.” More
Compassion & Choices Connecticut campaign is in overdrive – pressing lawmakers to re-introduce a death with dignity bill in the 2014 legislative session by the Feb. 19 deadline. C&C volunteers are mobilizing to ensure that lawmakers on the Public Health Committee get the message: Citizens want end-of-life options.
To demonstrate the wide support for death with dignity, anyone walking through the Capitol Rotunda in Hartford before February 14 will see an arresting exhibit: 30 large color portraits featuring Connecticut citizens expressing, in six short words, why they want their lawmakers to make aid in dying legal. Compassion & Choices unveiled the pictures at a press conference last week that kicked off this aggressive lobbying and grassroots campaign to get legislation passed this year in Connecticut. More