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Dying With Dignity: PA Woman Defends Against Assisted-Suicide Charges

A Pennsylvania woman is accused of assisted suicide. Some say the PA law is unfair. Photo courtesy of Dreamtime
A Pennsylvania woman is accused of assisted suicide. Some say the PA law is unfair. Photo courtesy of Dreamtime
October 31, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. - How far is too far when it comes to granting the final wish of a dying relative? The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office said a woman stepped over the legal line when she allegedly secured a morphine prescription, intent on helping her 93-year-old terminally-ill father end his life.

Barbara Mancini, 57, is a nurse from Philadelphia now facing a felony assisted-suicide charge. Sean Crowley, media relations manager, Compassion & Choices, said the case against Mancini exposes a major legal flaw.

"The assisted-suicide statute in Pennsylvania requires that someone assist someone in suicide who could not commit suicide by themselves. Joe Yourshaw clearly could have done that, if that was his intent. There is no evidence whatsoever to back up the state's charge on this," Crowley said.

Joe Mancini, the defendant's husband, said the charges and his wife's fight for freedom have turned their world upside down.

"It is this nightmare. We live this every day, day in and day out. And just knowing that she's made out to be this uncaring, cold, callous daughter - it's completely the opposite. It's very, very hurtful," he said.

Crowley pointed to laws in Oregon and some other states saying if a terminally ill person is declared mentally competent by at least two doctors, he or she has the right to a lethal drug dose prescription. Under those conditions, Crowley said, Barbara Mancini would not be in the situation she is today.

"Americans get to dictate how they're treated from the time they reach adulthood, how they're treated medically. Why should it be any different at the end of their life?" he asked. "It's a very poor use of limited state resources, prosecuting someone who's more of a saint - she's not a criminal."

In Oregon last year, 77 people ended their lives with lethal doses they obtained legally; 38 others received lethal drug doses but did not use them.

In a recent court hearing, state prosecutors claimed Mancini put pressure on a pharmacy to prescribe the morphine, thinking the dose would kill her father. Mancini's lawyer countered that Yourshaw was in hospice care at the time, and the morphine was part of a medical plan for him. Mancini was arrested Feb. 7; her father died four days later.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA