Woman lobbies for 'Death With Dignity' law

KUSA -- A Pennsylvania woman who was charged with aiding in the attempted suicide of her ailing father stopped by Denver on Thursday to advocate for "right-to-die" legislation.

On February 7, 2013, Barbara Mancini, at the request of her 93-year-old father, Joseph Yourshaw, handed him his legally-prescribed bottle of liquid morphine.

"I had the measuring syringe in my hand and he opened it and he drank what was left in the bottle," Mancini said. "We just sat there and we talked. This went on for a few hours he was drowsy and never lost consciousness."

Mancini didn't know then that this would be the day her life would change dramatically.

Yourshaw, dealing diabetes and heart disease, had fallen the day before. He was receiving in-home hospice care and received a visit from a nurse.

"I told her that he took the morphine. She was concerned that it might have been a lethal dose," Mancini said. "She put her supervisor on the phone, who insisted that he had to go to the ER. They said if I did not call 911 they would, and they did."

After police and paramedics arrived, Mancini was arrested and charged with a second-degree felony for aiding an attempted suicide.

Yourshaw died four days later. A death certificate stated "morphine toxicity" as the primary cause of his death, although pneuomonia and "failure to thrive" were also listed as causes.

Exactly one year after the death, Mancini's charges were dropped for a lack of evidence.

"It was just hard to believe it was even happening," she said.

Now Mancini travels the country advocating for what she calls "death with dignity."

A bill that would legalize what others call "physician-assisted suicide" could be introduced as soon as next week.

"He was absolutely furious that he was in the hospital. He pulled out his IV. He pulled out his monitor leads for the heart monitor," she said. "My father had been saying for over a year, to anyone who would listen, that he was ready to die. That was nothing new."

Several religious and secular groups oppose such legislation.

"The issue is that we're only allowing some people to choose to end their own life and those are people who have or are classified with with at least one type of disability, and that's discriminatory," said Carrie Ann Lucas, a spokesperson for "Not Dead Yet," an disability rights organization. "If you don't have that type of disability, and you want to end your own life, then you get suicide prevention. If you have that type of disability then you get assistance in ending your life. That's discrimination."

End-of-life expert Jennifer Ballentine, who works with hospices, also opposes the bill.

"Physicians have to heal and not to harm," she said. "Physicians have a lot of power. And patients at the end of life are very vulnerable."

Mancini said her father did not receive the proper treatment while in hospice care.

Ballentine agrees that hospices have room for improvement.

"It's a reason to ramp up public policy to continue to improve hospice and palleative care."

The bill would require that two physicians, as well as an unrelated witness, approve the mental state of a patitent before prescribing lethal medication, only after the patient is determined to have only six months or less to live.

"I don't know if I ever will have what you call appropriate grieving or proper grieving because I'll never be able to separate it from this horrific ordeal," Mancini said. "It was wrong and I hope no other family ever have to experience such a thing."

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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