In Philadelphia, an emergency room nurse named Barbara Mancini was arrested for providing her 93-year-old terminally ill father with a lethal dose of morphine. Her father was in hospice care, meaning that no further treatment was possible and death was imminent; the goals of hospice care are to ease pain and provide comfort for the dying patient. He was in kidney failure and apparently in a significant amount of pain.
Prosecutors contend he just wanted pain relief from pain, not death, and so they are charging her with assisted suicide. Her family supports her action and is coping with both their loss and Mancini’s legal troubles.
This case brings up issues about assisted suicide that are frequently asked by ethicists and often appear on state ballots. Recent research from Pew’s Religion and Public Life Project found that a slight majority of Americans favor this practice in some circumstances, a number that has shrunk compared with previous studies in 1990 and 2005.
What do controversies over assisted suicide teach us about the social construction of death?