Phila. woman charged with helping ill father die

Posted: August 01, 2013

Joe Yourshaw was 93 and in hospice care at his home in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, in February when he asked his visiting daughter for his bottle of morphine.

That much appears undisputed.

Now, Barbara Mancini of Philadelphia is facing prosecution for allegedly aiding her father's suicide - an allegation she denied through her lawyers.

"Prosecution of Mancini is an assault on a loving daughter and a violation of a dying patient's constitutional right to pain relief," said Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer with Denver-based Compassion and Choices, an end-of-life advocacy group that is helping Mancini.

Mancini's attorneys plan to hold a Wednesday morning teleconference to call for Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office to drop the case, which they call unsupportable and "a perversion of justice." Kane, a Democrat, recently refused to defend Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage, to the dismay of Republican leaders.

Her office was asked to prosecute the Mancini case by the Schuylkill County District Attorney's Office because of a potential conflict of interest, a common request in small counties. Kane's press aide said her office could not comment.

Yourshaw, who lived with his elderly wife, had end-stage diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and arthritis among other medical problems, according to Mancini's lawyers.

On Feb. 7, Pottsville Police Capt. Steve Durkin went to the Yourshaws' home in response to a 911 call from the hospice nurse.

The nurse "told me that her client had taken an overdose of his morphine with the intent to commit suicide," Durkin wrote in his report.

The nurse said Mancini, who also is a nurse, gave her father the morphine "at his request so that he could end his own suffering," Durkin wrote.

When an ambulance arrived, Mancini told paramedics that her father was dying and did not want further treatment, but the police captain overruled her.

"I advised defendant that she no longer had any say in the matter and that her father was going to the hospital for treatment," Durkin's report says.

Yourshaw was revived at the hospital, only to die there four days later after doctors gave him more morphine for his pain, according to Mancini's lawyers.

The death certificate was issued four months later, in June. It lists the immediate cause of death as "morphine toxicity" that complicated high blood pressure and heart disease.

An autopsy, standard in criminal cases, was not performed by the coroner, David J. Moylan, because he is a cancer specialist, not a pathologist.

Moylan, a Republican from New Philadelphia, this month announced that he is running as a "pro-life" candidate for his party's nomination in the 17th Congressional District.

The autopsy was conducted by Allentown forensic pathologist Rameen Starling-Roney, with Moylan and Durkin in attendance, according to the autopsy report.

Mancini's Pottsville attorney, Frederic J. Fanelli, said the toxicology analysis lists the morphine level in Yourshaw's blood when he arrived at the hospital, not when he died four days later: "He lived for a number of days and we contend he died of conditions unrelated to ingesting the morphine."

In any case, he had a right to relieve his suffering, said Tucker, the Compassion and Choices lawyer.

"The Supreme Court has ruled in a pair of cases that I brought in mid-1990s that dying patients have a right to all the pain medication they need, even if it advances the time of death," Tucker said.

"It's very hard to see," she added, "what would motivate a prosecutor to charge a daughter at the bedside of her dying father with a crime when she does nothing more than hand him his medication."


Contact Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720 or mmccullough@phillynews.com.

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