It's difficult to know what to do for a loved one in the end stages of a terminal illness. Certainly, palliative care is often very effective, and it's the preferred approach for almost everyone who is dying in pain. But for some, palliative care isn't enough. Four states - Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington - allow a terminally ill patient to choose to end his life and ask for assistance in doing so.
There's no doubt that assisted suicide is a difficult decision for all involved. Even when there is clear law on point, we sometimes see prosecutions for homicide when the defendant argues that she was assisting in an inevitable outcome.
Take Barbara Mancini, a 58-year-old nurse in Pennsylvania. When her father, 93-year-old Joseph Yourshaw, died from a morphine overdose, she was charged with helping him take his own life. The state's claim? That she handed him a bottle of the painkillers, which he ingested, leading to his death four days later.
But last week, six months after Mancini was charged with assisting a suicide, the judge dismissed the case. According to the court, there was no proof that an attempted suicide had occurred, much less that Mancini intended to help her father end his life.
The judge pointed to the fact that Yourshaw had wanted to die at home and had asked that medical professionals allow him to die rather than use extraordinary measures. While Yourshaw definitely ingested morphine, there was no evidence that he intended to overdose or that Mancini aided him in doing so when she handed him the bottle.
Mancini won't go to jail, but she's been under a cloud of prosecution for six months, had to pay lawyers and had to deal with the social stigma of being called a criminal. All this while mourning the death of her father.
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