Nurse fights charges she helped father commit suicide

Facing felony charges of assisted suicide, nurse Barbara Mancini (center) listens to lawyer Fred Fanelli (right) discuss the case with reporters outside Schuylkill County Court. At left are her husband, Joe, and mother, Marge Yourshaw.
Facing felony charges of assisted suicide, nurse Barbara Mancini (center) listens to lawyer Fred Fanelli (right) discuss the case with reporters outside Schuylkill County Court. At left are her husband, Joe, and mother, Marge Yourshaw. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 12, 2013

POTTSVILLE, Pa. - Barbara Mancini, a Philadelphia nurse charged with a felony of assisted suicide, pressured a hospice to prescribe morphine for her father with the intention of helping him end his life, Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Forray argued Thursday.

During a hearing focused on a defense motion to dismiss the felony charge, Forray said Mancini gave her father a bottle of morphine knowing it could end his life.

When the morphine didn't do the job, she asked a hospice nurse for more, Forray said. "The evidence is far beyond simply handing her father a bottle of morphine."

After the hearing, Mancini's husband, Joe, called the state's charges "outrageous and wrong."

Her attorney, Fred Fanelli, said a prescription for morphine was part of her father's medical plan from the day he was enrolled in hospice. Joseph Yourshaw, 93, had been prescribed the painkiller weeks before his daughter called the hospice seeking a morphine prescription for him, he said.

The defense also maintained that Mancini called for a prescription only because an earlier one had not yet arrived and her father was in pain.

The 45-minute hearing was held before Judge Jacqueline Russell in Schuylkill County Court. The judge took no action, only accepting briefs, hearing arguments, and occasionally interacting with counsel.

Reacting to the charge that Yourshaw wanted no medications, the judge said, "It seems odd that a person in pain would not want pain medication."

"I hope you're giving me an appropriate picture of what actually happened," the judge told the prosecutor at one point.

"I am as far as I understand them," Forray replied.

Yourshaw, a World War II veteran, suffered from kidney failure, end-stage diabetes, heart disease, and the effects of stroke.

Mancini, 57, an emergency room nurse, has been suspended without pay from her job pending the outcome of this case, which has garnered nationwide attention.

Mancini was arrested Feb. 7 in Pottsville after allegedly handing her father the bottle of legally prescribed morphine when he asked her for it. The defense maintains it was the action of a devoted daughter caring for her father.

Mancini had been designated the legal decision-maker by her father.

Soon after Mancini handed her father the morphine and he drank it, hospice nurse Barbara Cattermole arrived.

According to the state's brief, the nurse said Mancini "admitted she had given her father morphine. She had fulfilled his wish."

While Yourshaw was still breathing, Mancini asked the nurse "to get more morphine because her father had not died yet," the state brief indicates. "Cattermole told her that this was not going to happen."

Then, "when told by Nurse Cattermole that she was going to have to make a call (to her supervisors and 911), the defendant became very agitated."

After the call, the brief says, the defendant seized Cattermole's cellphone "and threw it against the wall, where it fell in several pieces."

Yourshaw had a do-not-resuscitate order, and his daughter thought that moving him to a hospital and reviving him would be against his wishes.

He was taken to the hospital and revived. He died four days later, taking morphine to ease his pain.

The defense, urging dismissal, said "Yourshaw was mentally competent" when he drank the morphine. "There was nothing he couldn't have done on his own that his daughter did for him."

It also argued that the prosecution could not know Yourshaw's intent when he drank it. "He, on his own, tried to drink his morphine to alleviate his own pain," Fanelli said.

At that point the judge said to the prosecution, "We have to know you have proof of this man's intent."

"We know he wanted to die," Forray replied. "She gave him this morphine because he wanted to die. And when he didn't die, she wanted to get him more morphine."

The judge said "many, many elderly sick people . . . make those statements. Whether they want to die or not is another thing."

Mancini was in court with her husband, two teenage daughters, mother, brother, and cousins and friends. She said she wanted to tell her side of the story but cannot because of a gag order. "I'm looking forward to the day I can speak freely," she said.

Her mother, Marge Yourshaw, 84, said before the hearing, "It's been a terrible year. Losing Joe and then having my daughter be accused. It's like living a nightmare."


mvitez@phillynews.com

215-854-5639

@michaelvitez

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