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Right-to-die advocate says patients' wishes should be honored at UHLC health law conference

Right-to-die advocate says patients’ wishes should be honored at UHLC health law conference

Barbara Mancini, a consultant at Compassion and Choices, shares details from her arrest and trial during the University of Houston Law Center Health Law & Policy Institute's "Ethical & Legal Issues in End of Life Care" panel in the Hendricks Heritage Room.

Oct. 18, 2016 – The University of Houston Law Center's Health Law & Policy Institute speaker series kicked off last week with "Ethical & Legal Issues in End of Life Care." Law Center Professor Seth J. Chandler, Law Foundation Professor of Law, served as moderator for the presentation in the Hendricks Heritage Room.

The event featured Barbara Mancini, who rose to national and international prominence when she was arrested on Feb. 7, 2013, in Pottsville, Pa., and charged with aiding an attempted suicide for handing her dying 92-year-old father a bottle of morphine. She faced up to 10 years in prison, but the charges were dismissed about a year later after a lengthy and costly court case.

"At the heart of this whole discussion is the question of who gets to decide how you will die," Mancini said. "My father was hauled off to the hospital against his explicit dying wishes and subjected to what amounted to four days of medical torture before he died. He was punished for wanting to die in peace and comfort. The medical system failed my father and the justice system failed me."

The opening speaker was Monica James, community outreach coordinator for Houston Hospice, who tried to clarify common misconceptions about hospice care.

"In order to qualify for hospice care, a patient must have a life-ending condition which is usually about six months or less to live," James said. "When you think of hospices, death comes to mind, but it's about comfort care. It's about making sure you have the best quality of life for whatever amount of time that you have.

"We make sure to provide pain and symptom management. Hospice care does not take away treatment but gives more care to a person with a life-ending condition."

James also suggested that people carefully select their medical power of attorney.

"I always tell people to make sure you choose very wisely the person who is going to make decisions for you," she said. "Even if you have written instructions about what your wishes are, they won't be honored if your medical power attorney decides otherwise."

Lex Frieden, professor of Health Informatics and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center, was the final speaker. Frieden directs the Independent Living Research Utilization Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann, and was instrumental in drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.  He became disabled as an 18-year-old when he suffered a broken neck as a passenger in a head-on collision.

"This issue of assisted suicide and end of life is a very important one to people with disabilities," Frieden said. "There are people in this world who are all too eager to place their own judgments on what good quality of life is on people who themselves should be making that determination."

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