Pennsylvania Record

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Judge dismisses high-profile assisted suicide case against Phila. nurse

By Jon Campisi | Feb 13, 2014

The emotionally charged case of a Philadelphia nurse who was charged by state authorities with the assisted suicide of her dying father has come to a close after a trial judge dismissed the criminal counts against the woman.

Court records show that Schuylkill County Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline Russell on Tuesday granted a defense request to dismiss the case against Barbara Mancini, who was charged with handing her terminally ill father, Joe Yourshaw, his legally prescribed morphine bottle in an alleged move to help speed up his death.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office charged Mancini, a registered nurse from Philadelphia’s Roxborough section, with assisted suicide, a felony that could have landed her in state prison for upwards of 10 years.

Mancini maintained that all she did was hand her ailing father his partially filled bottle of prescribed morphine when he requested it.

Yourshaw took the medication to ease his severe pain from end-stage diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure, court records and media reports state.

The case drew widespread public and media attention.

Assisted suicide remains illegal in the commonwealth.

Mancini was reportedly suspended without pay from her nursing job at a Philadelphia hospital – she is said to have been officially terminated just recently – and her family incurred legal and travel expenses related to what they contended was an unwarranted and overzealous prosecution.

While the Mancinis live in Philadelphia, the court case had been playing out in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, which is about 100 miles away.

In her ruling Tuesday, Russell wrote that a jury could not receive a case where it must rely on “conjecture” to reach a verdict.

“As the case presented to the court would not warrant submission to a jury due to the lack of competent evidence elicited by the Commonwealth on the crime charged – with the Commonwealth’s reliance on speculation and guess serving as an inappropriate means to prove its case – Defendant’s petition for habeas corpus is being granted,” the judge wrote in her 47-page ruling.

Compassion & Choices, which bills itself as the nation’s top end-of-life choice advocacy group, praised the dismissal of what it said was an unjust felony charge to begin with.

“The Mancini family’s year-long nightmare finally is over. This unjust prosecution upended this family’s life and livelihood and delayed their grieving for their patriarch Joe Yourshaw,” the group’s chief program officer, Mickey MacIntyre, said in a statement. “This case demonstrates that the government has no business interfering in families’ end-of-life decisions. This prosecution could have chilled end-of-life decisions and pain care for millions of future terminally ill patients who simply want to die at home, peacefully and with dignity.”

Compassion & Choices had filed an amicus brief in support of the defendant’s motion to dismiss the assisted suicide charge against Mancini.

The organization’s legal defense fund had also raised $20,000 to help reimburse Mancini and her family with legal expenses that to date have exceeded $100,000, the group stated.

Mancini’s husband, Joe Mancini, a paramedic for the City of Philadelphia, reportedly had to work extra shifts to make up for the lost family income.

Mancini was arrested in Schuylkill County after a hospice nurse who had been working with her father found the man unresponsive.

Upon learning that Mancini had handed the dying man his medication, the hospice nurse called 911, despite Yourshaw’s clear instructions to caregivers that he did not want to be revived; he reportedly had a do-not-resuscitate order in place.

Nevertheless, Yourshaw was revived after being taken to the hospital – where, perhaps ironically, he was reportedly given more morphine – although he ended up dying four days later.

Russell’s order dismissing the charges against Mancini came a year to the date after Yourshaw’s death.

In her Feb. 11 order, Allen wrote that the Attorney General’s Office has failed to meet its prima facie burden of proof in order for the criminal charges against Mancini to move forward.

In her memorandum, Russell pointed out that it was unknown how much morphine was in Yourshaw’s bottle at the time he asked his daughter to hand it to him on Feb. 7, 3013, “with only speculation providing a possible figure.”

Due to prosecutors’ failure of proof, the judge wrote, one could conclude, only based on conjecture, that Yourshaw thought he was attempting to alleviate his pain “once and for all” by consuming his medication in hopes of taking his own life, and then find that Mancini was trying to aid her father in his effort to do so.

“However,” Russell wrote, “an accused cannot be found to have aided, and, then caused a third person to attempt suicide without competent proof that an attempted suicide had indeed occurred.”

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