Prosecutorial discretion is, by and large, absolute. Which brings me to the misuse — perhaps mistaken misuse — of that discretion as exercised by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane in the case of Barbara Mancini, of Pottstown.
It’s a sad tale, all around. Mancini, a registered nurse, is being prosecuted by Kane’s office for aiding in the suicide of her 93-year-old father, Joseph Yourshaw, in February of this year in Pottstown. She allegedly gave Yourshaw, who was in hospice care — in pain and terminally ill — a bottle of morphine.
Her father reportedly had a standing Do Not Resuscitate order but a visiting hospice nurse who found him unresponsive called police and an EMS team, which transported him to a hospital — where he was resuscitated and given more morphine for pain — only to die four days later.
Why the state attorney general is prosecuting this case is a mystery. Here is Kane, a Democrat who called Pennsylvania’s prohibition on marriage equality “wholly unconstitutional,” pursuing a case in which she defends a clearly unconstitutional law that impinges on an individual’s rights.
So much for “constitutional consistency.” Kane told The Washington Post regarding Pennsylvania’s marriage equality ban: “If there is a law that I feel that does not conform with the Pennsylvania state constitution and the U.S. Constitution, then I ethically cannot do that (defend it) as a lawyer.”
But she feels it’s ethically correct to pursue prosecution in a case in which the deceased had a Do Not Resuscitate order and in which hospital staff administered the same opiate she’s accusing the man’s daughter of giving him?
Kane has me worried, personally. While I’m far from a spring chicken and have fewer years remaining than those behind, the last government entity I want interfering with any self-determined trip into the great beyond I might undertake would be the medieval law-ridden state of Pennsylvania.
Compassion & Choices — compassionandchoices.org — An organization dedicated to the care and rights of terminally ill patients, including those seeking physician aid in dying, has, rightly, taken up Mancini’s case. The organization is asking those urging Kane to drop this “unjust” case to join others at cqrcengage.com/compassionandchoices/home.
None of us, including Kane, Yourshaw’s daughter or those who whisked him away from his bedside to die in the hospital can know the agony he must have experienced as the result of unwarranted intervention in his death.
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Add to the personal tragedy surrounding Mancini’s grief the fact she must now respond to felony charges obviously brought in keeping with a prosecutor’s personal moral beliefs.
Consider: Yourshaw was under hospice care, dying from kidney failure, stroke, end-stage diabetes, along with heart and vascular disease.
Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, is an attorney advocate who had a 25-year career as a nurse and physician assistant, often caring for terminally ill patients, said the state’s case against Mancini is just the sort “that scares doctors and nurses into letting their dying patients suffer rather than risk the scrutiny of an over-zealous prosecutor.
She writes of the case, “If some part of him (Yourshaw) wished for his agony to be over, does that make him ‘suicidal’ in the eyes of the law? Only in some rigid and dogma-ridden theocracy would that interpretation be defensible. Most Americans believe government should not be meddling in the deeply personal decisions of a dying man.”
She concluded: “Joe was dying; his intention cannot be proven, and it’s none of the government’s business anyway.”
With this unjust prosecution by Kane, the hopes of so many for a more enlightened state law enforcement administration apparently have gone glimmering.
In effect, she is using Pennsylvania law to punish those who want relief from pain or provide the same. That’s wrong on so many levels, especially the personal.
William Parkinson is a copy editor at The Sentinel. He has spent 40 years at newspapers, the Associated Press and United Press International in this country and abroad. He’s mad about cats — and words. His column appears on Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org