Nurse charged with assisting in her dying father's suicide

Hospice patient took a lethal dose of morphine provided by his daughter

Topics: Service Lines, Geriatrics

August 1, 2013

A nurse charged with helping her ailing father die by providing him a lethal dose of morphine will attend a preliminary court hearing Thursday in Pottsville, Pa., local authorities say.

The Philadelphia nurse, Barbara Mancini, admits that provided her 93-year-old father, Joe Yourshaw, with a vial of morphine, but she denies that he was planning to commit suicide with the drugs. 

Details surrounding Yourshaw's death

Yourshaw was suffering from end-stage diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and arthritis and was under the care of a hospice nurse when he took a lethal dose of morphine on Feb. 7.

The hospice nurse called 9-1-1 and told local police officers that Mancini had given Yourshaw morphine "at his request so that he could end his own suffering," according to police reports. Mancini allegedly told an officer that her father had requested enough morphine to commit suicide and she had provided it.

Yourshaw was revived at a local hospital, but died four days later after he was given more morphine for his pain. His death certificate listed the cause of death as "morphine toxicity" that complicated his heart disease and diabetes. The manner of death was listed as "homicide."

Details of the lawsuit

Mancini and her lawyers maintain that the nurse gave Yourshaw a vial of morphine to ease his pain, not to help him end his life, and that Yourshaw had a prescription for morphine. That act is legally protected, even if it causes death, according to her lawyers.

"Barbara did not, would not, would never hand medicine to her father with the sole purpose—or with even a remote purpose—that he was going to intentionally end his life on her watch," attorney Frederic Fanelli told reporters, adding that it is "abhorrent that they would even say that."

The life of 'Dr. Death': Kevorkian and physician-assisted suicide

In addition, Fanelli challenges the cause of death. "It's nonsense that someone can die from morphine toxicity four days later," he said, adding, "It's unsupported medically and it's unsupported scientifically and it just doesn't make sense."

Mancini is being charged under a Pennsylvania statute that makes assisting suicide illegal in the state. (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana are the only states in the nation to allow assisted suicide under certain circumstances.)

According to NPR, defendants convicted of assisting a dying patient commit suicide tend to receive light sentences, such as probation (DiBlasio, USA Today, 7/31; Knox, "Shots, " NPR, 7/31; McCullough, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/31).

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