I   clearly recall the first time my mother asked me to help her die.

It was the first of at least four instances she made the request of me.

It happened in April 2012, three months before her 85th birthday and six months before she passed away on her own, while a patient at the York County Home at Pleasant Acres.

At the time, my mother still had some of her wits about her. Or, at least, I thought she did. By that, I mean she still knew me by name, though she had been unable to recognize her brother and sister when they visited her a few weeks earlier.

She was slipping away. More quickly then. And I knew it.

The pace of her Alzheimer's had picked up. And the added complications of incontinence, lack of bowel control and painful arthritic knees certainly didn't make life any more tolerable for her.

I knew that, too.

Fact is, the quality of Mom's life had gone to hell in a handbasket the last two or three years she was alive.

It is precisely why she was in a nursing home the last 20 months of her life. She needed the kind of care her family could no longer provide at home.

But this particular day was worse than most for her, I guess. She'd gotten into an ugly exchange with her nursing aides that morning when they were trying to get her cleaned up, bathed and dressed for the day.


Mom could be difficult at times, and the Alzheimer's didn't make it any better. Sometimes she was pretty hard to get along with at the end. So much so, I felt sorry for the nursing staff, to be honest with you.

So when I visited her later that day, and she said, "Larry, I want you to help me die. I'm ready to go. I don't want to live like this anymore," I couldn't say I was particularly surprised.

For years before that, Mom and I had talked about death and dying and her final wishes a number of times. I knew how she felt about it. I knew what she wanted. I knew what was important to her.

Mom, I can't do that.

"Why not?" she asked.

Because 10 minutes after you're gone, they'll be carting me off to jail, that's why. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail because I helped put you out of your misery.

She looked at me, her eyes pleading. She understood, I think. But it wasn't what she wanted to hear.

Sorry, Mom, but I just can't do that.

At the time I was saying it, I was thinking how unfortunate it is that, in this country at least, we're more humane about the end-of-life decisions we make for our pets than for the humans we love.

As it turns out, my mom was one of the unfortunate ones. She lived well beyond those years when she had a decent quality of life, well beyond a time when her mind, her body, her organs, her will to live kept her in good stead.

She was ready to die, but couldn't. She wanted me to help her die, and I couldn't.

So we both got to suffer through six more months until her time came. Naturally.

It was torture for her, worse than torture for those of us who loved her and had to watch her suffer.

By July, she no longer recognized me by face or name. She was surrounded by a dozen members of her family at a birthday picnic and she didn't know a single person there. She'd messed herself three or four times that day, and the pain in her legs and her balance were so bad she was wheelchair bound.

Later that day, I began praying to God that he please take my mother into his care, sooner rather than later. And, though I felt guilty about it, I kept asking. Every day. Several times, some days.

Why? Because human beings should not have to live like that at the end of their lives. When the suffering becomes too much to bear, they should be able to call an end to it if they like.

She asked me to help her die. I wouldn't. I couldn't.

So it took three more months before the call came from a social worker that she was nearing the end. Even then, it took a week before she finally passed. She died on Oct. 2, 2012, while lying in the nursing home's "Quiet Room."

It was a God-awful experience. For her especially. And for me. For everyone.

But I was glad she was gone. I considered it a blessing, an answer to months' worth of prayer. I hope God forgives me for that.

Then this: Last week, I read online that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has decided to prosecute a Philadelphia nurse, Barbara Mancini, for aiding (questionable, in my mind) in the death of her terminally ill father, 93-year-old Joe Yourshaw.

Yourshaw apparently expressed an interest in leaving this life on his own terms, at home, with as much serenity as he could muster. He was suffering. He was in great pain. And he wanted to put an end to it.

He was receiving hospice care at his home in Pottsville, Pa. He knew the end was coming, that he was terminally ill, that he was suffering from heart and kidney disease and end-stage diabetes. He was taking large doses of morphine in an effort to control the pain.

On his day of decision, he took an exceptionally large dose of morphine, and Mancini was there to see him do it. She made no attempt to stop him. In truth, at her father's request, she provided him with the bottle of morphine. And she admits it.

Here's the interesting part: 911 was called. Yourshaw was taken to the hospital, where he was revived (and given more morphine by hospital staff), only to die four days later in the hospital.

Yourshaw asked his daughter, a nurse by profession, to help him die. He intended to commit suicide. She helped.

Attorney General Kane has decided to prosecute Mancini for assisting in her father's suicide.

Legally speaking, I'm not convinced the facts of the case support prosecution. Some years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a terminally ill person in pain can take as much pain-killing medication as he/she chooses, even if it results in death.

On that basis alone, I think this case against Mancini is seriously flawed.

This case screams for discretion.

I say that because I think Mancini did a humane thing for her dying father. In fairness, I also say it because, but for the grace of God, I could easily be standing in her shoes.

Mancini did what I could not do.

And I judge her not even a little bit.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.