Judge rejects assisted-suicide case against Philly nurse Barbara Mancini

Barbara Mancini in a 1992 family photo with her father, Joseph Yourshaw. The area nurse learned of the judge's ruling online Tuesday.
Barbara Mancini in a 1992 family photo with her father, Joseph Yourshaw. The area nurse learned of the judge's ruling online Tuesday.
Posted: February 13, 2014

A Schuylkill County judge on Tuesday dismissed the assisted-suicide charge against Barbara Mancini, the 58-year-old Philadelphia nurse who was arrested last February after handing her 93-year-old terminally ill father a bottle of morphine.

"A jury may not receive a case where it must rely on conjecture to reach a verdict," Judge Jacqueline Russell said at the end of her 47-page opinion.

The case "would not warrant submission to a jury due to the lack of competent evidence," she continued, adding that "the commonwealth's reliance on speculation" served "as an inappropriate means to prove its case."

The dismissal comes more than a year after Mancini's Feb. 7 arrest.

"I'm very relieved and elated that Judge Russell ruled the way she did," Mancini said Tuesday night. "It's a long opinion. She really took them to task," she said, referring to the state Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case.

Mancini's father, Joseph Yourshaw, was terminally ill, in extreme pain, and under hospice care when his daughter handed him his legally prescribed morphine, and he drank it.

A hospice nurse then arrived at his home in Pottsville, saw him unconscious, talked with his daughter, and then called police - against Mancini's wishes, according to testimony. Yourshaw had repeatedly said he wanted to die, and die at home. He had completed a living will, and had designated his daughter as his medical decision-maker.

Yourshaw was taken to a hospital, revived, and died there four days later. He knew his daughter had been arrested, and according to his son-in-law, his last words were "Don't hurt Barbara."

Rarely does the long arm of the state reach the bedside of a dying man, prosecuting a daughter caring for him. The case drew national attention after a preliminary hearing in August.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Forray, who had said in a preliminary hearing, "We believe the evidence is overwhelming." He contended the daughter pressured hospice to prescribe the morphine for her father and handed him a full bottle with a 40-day supply, knowing that when he drank it, it would end his life.

Forray also contended that when Yourshaw didn't die, and the hospice nurse arrived, Mancini told her what she'd done and asked for more morphine to finish the job.

Mancini's lawyer, Fred Fanelli, denied all the charges, and contended that without the allegations of hospice nurses, the state had no evidence at all against his client and no case.

Fanelli asked Russell for a dismissal at a hearing in October.

Joe Peters, a spokesman for the attorney general, said Tuesday afternoon that his office had not received a copy of the decision yet, and lawyers there wanted to review it before making a comment.

It was Barbara Mancini herself who first found out about the dismissal Tuesday about 3 p.m. She had been suspended from her job at Lankenau Medical Center as an emergency-room nurse, without pay, since a preliminary hearing in August.

In fact, said her husband, she was officially terminated last week, because the leave of absence could not be extended any longer. But Joe Mancini said his wife's supervisor, a nurse manager, told her that she could reapply if exonerated.

In any case, out of work, unable to respond to the charges because of a gag order by the court, Barbara Mancini grew increasingly frustrated and bereft. Just last week, her husband e-mailed a supporter: "The stress, frustration and anger are really getting to all of us. I truly don't know how much more Barb can take!"

So for the last few months, every day at 9 a.m., and literally every two hours all day, Barbara Mancini went online, to the Schuylkill County Court website, to see if any decisions about her case had been entered on the docket.

About 3 p.m. Tuesday, there it was. Case Dismissed.

"I was sleeping," said Joe Mancini, a paramedic for the city. "I worked last night. I heard screaming and crying, and it woke me. I thought, 'Oh, my God, something happened.' I went downstairs and Barb was hugging our daughter, Maria, crying. She couldn't even speak, she was just so overwhelmed. She gave me her computer. I saw the judge had placed the order, dismissing the case."

The dismissal, he noted, came on the anniversary of Yourshaw's death, turning what would ordinarily be a sad day of reflection into one of joy.

Barbara Mancini said late Tuesday that she had been on the phone with friends and supporters all evening. "My head is spinning," she said. "I've had a lot of people pulling for me and I appreciate it. It's been a whole year."

Five states have laws that allow assisted suicide - although Pennsylvania is not one of them. In those states, a mentally competent person who is terminally ill can legally be prescribed a lethal dose of medication.

Oregon was the first state to approve such legislation - upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. And three state legislatures - in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey - are expected to give similar laws a full hearing this year, according to Barbara Coombs Lee, the president of Compassion and Choices, an advocacy group for aid in dying.

Coombs Lee called the judge's decision Tuesday "a wonderful vindication of Barbara Mancini, who really represents every woman sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one, doing what she can to relieve suffering."


mvitez@phillynews.com

215-854-5639 @michaelvitez


 

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