A few weeks ago Attorney General Kathleen Kane decided that she would not defend the state in a court challenge to Pennsylvania law banning same-sex marriage. She opined that it was unconstitutional and that she would not defend the law. Some folks agreed; others did not. But, for now, it is still the law.
Now she’s decided to prosecute a case that’s left many legal minds asking why she would support the unsupportable prosecution of a woman for the death of her elderly, dying father.
Joe Yourshaw of Pottsville was 93 and suffered from end-stage diabetes. His heart and kidneys were failing and arthritis made his pain even worse. He was in home-hospice care because he was dying. His daughter, Barbara Mancini, is a registered nurse. He entrusted her with medical power of attorney to carry out his wishes. Reportedly, Joe consistently stated his wish to die peacefully at home.
Earlier this year, he asked Barbara to hand him his bottle of morphine. Many legal experts assert that dying patients have a federal constitutional right to as much medicine as they need to relieve their pain – even if it advances the time of death.
Barbara handed Joe his morphine and he proceeded to ingest it, become unresponsive and die peacefully in his home. But the story doesn’t end there.
A visiting hospice nurse arrived shortly after Joe ingested the morphine and called 911. He was revived at the hospital, but died there four days later after contracting pneumonia. While in the hospital doctors prescribed more morphine to treat his symptoms before he died. His death certificate lists the cause of death as "morphine toxicity" that complicated his heart disease and diabetes, and the manner of death was listed as "homicide."
Now, because Barbara handed her dying father the bottle of morphine, Kane feels the loving daughter has committed the act of assisting with a suicide.
Many defense attorneys have come forward to say that Barbara did not commit any crime because her father was not planning suicide. He simply exercised his constitutional right to relieve his pain.
Michael Ciccocioppo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation was quoted as saying, “If a person beyond a reasonable doubt committed assisted suicide, justice needs to be served and the law needs to be adjudicated … But in a case like this one, which is so murky, unless there is real evidence to corroborate the charge, it’s hard to see how this would go all the way through.”
Taking advantage of Kane’s earlier decision not to defend Pennsylvania’s same sex-marriage act, many in the pro-euthanasia lobby are urging Kane to drop the case, by citing her decision not to defend a Pennsylvania law upholding traditional marriage. They feel that if the attorney general refused to defend that law, she could refuse to defend the Pennsylvania ban on assisted suicide, too.
This is just another example of the many issues and potential court battles that could arise when public officials decide which laws to defend and which ones to ignore.