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DN Editorial: Mercy act

State should pass Sen. Leach's Aid in Dying legislation.

AFTER WATCHING his brother-in-law die in excruciating pain of a fatal illness, state Sen. Daylin Leach introduced an Aid in Dying law in Pennsylvania. It would provide something already offered in four other states in the U.S.: The right for a terminally ill person to obtain medication from a physician so he or she can choose when to end the hopeless anguish of end-of-life lingering.

Needless to say, Leach's bill went nowhere, thanks to those brave souls in the Senate "who'd rather debate the significance of the hedgehog in Pennsylvania," as Leach put it, than do anything controversial. Leach introduced the bill three times to no avail. He has said he plans to do it again.

This time, he could call it the Joseph Yourshaw Law.

Yourshaw was a 93-year-old man who was lingering in the hopeless state of death's prelude - in end-stage diabetes, his heart and kidneys failing, arthritis compounding his horrible pain. He was in home-hospice care in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, and one day in February he asked his daughter to hand him his bottle of morphine.

He drank it. He soon became unresponsive and later died.

What happened next is almost unthinkable. The hospice nurse reported the daughter. And Barbara Mancini, 57, a nurse who lives in Philadelphia, was arrested. A court has upheld the charge against her of aiding a suicide, a second-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The authorities claim she intended to help her father die. Her lawyer says she was helping him ease his pain, which is his right. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a patient with an end-stage fatal disease and no hope of recovery can take as much pain medication as he or she wants, even if it will hasten death.

The state attorney general is pursuing the case despite the offices's prerogative of discretion. Kathleen Kane recently exercised that discretion by refusing to defend the state ban on gay marriage in court. The office apparently believes there's a difference between defending a law and enforcing it, with this rationale: The case was handed up to the office because the local D.A. had a conflict, there's sufficient evidence that a statute has been violated, so charges must be brought.

So a caring daughter who is also a nurse is being treated like she's a criminal and a threat to society. Her life is in a state of traumatic limbo.

It's indecent. It's infuriating.

Never mind the sheer waste of government resources to prosecute this case. Never mind that most people believe that "how a terminally ill person chooses to end his/her life should be an individual decision, not a government decision," according to a survey by a Republican pollster last year.

Ironically, in the states in which Aid in Dying laws exist, a majority of people who obtain fatal prescriptions never use them. They just want the comfort of knowing they can choose when to end their suffering if life becomes unbearable.

The attorney general should end the prosecution of Barbara Mancini. And the state Legislature should heed Leach's lead and pass the Joe Yourshaw Law.

Published