State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

AG presses on with assisted suicide case over protests

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 15, 2013 5:15 PM
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The state attorney general shows no sign of budging from the prosecution of a woman who allegedly helped her elderly father end his life in Schuylkill County.

Barbara Mancini, a nurse from Philadelphia, is being charged with a felony count after she admitted to handing her 93-year-old father, a hospice patient, enough morphine to end his life.

An end-of-life planning advocacy group is asking the AG's office to drop the case.

Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane has said once before that there is a state law she would not defend based on her belief that it is unconstitutional.

But the end-of-life planning advocacy group says constitutionality is not the issue. Compassion & Choices is driving up the visibility of the case with an online petition urging Kane to drop charges on the grounds that the Pennsylvania law is being misapplied.

"It would be constitutional to apply this statute to someone who was goading or abetting a person into playing Russian roulette or jumping from a ledge, a person who was distraught and depressed and had disordered thinking and was truly suicidal," said the group's president, Barbara Coombs Lee.

Lee holds that while the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws making assisting suicide a crime, it also allows dying patients to receive medication in quantities that would ease pain, even if the medication would advance the time of death.

She added that she sees a difference between suicide and ending one's pain.

"Is a 93-year-old man who is days away from dying and is in agony, would you describe him as suicidal if he has a yearning to end his suffering," asked Lee.

The attorney general's office, which was referred to the case by the Schuylkill County district attorney, has declined comment due to a gag order issued by the judge. This week, the case was sent from the magisterial district to the county's Court of Common Pleas. A trial hasn't yet been scheduled.

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