POTTSVILLE, Pa. - A Schuylkill County judge said Thursday that she will rule later on whether to dismiss an assisted suicide charge against a nurse accused of handing her 93-year-old terminally ill father a bottle of morphine.
Barbara Mancini is charged with giving a nearly full bottle of morphine to her father, Joe Yourshaw, at his Pottsville home in February for the purpose of helping him end his life. Yourshaw died at a hospital four days later after a hospice nurse called 911.
Schuylkill County Judge Jacqueline Russell said she will issue an order on whether she wants additional information before she rules on a defense request to dismiss the case before trial.
Mancini, 57, of Philadelphia, has drawn the backing of a group called Compassion & Choices, which supports aid in dying and other end-of-life decisions. A small group of her supporters waved signs outside court Thursday that read, "Dismiss this joke'' and, "Stop wasting tax money."
Mancini's husband, Joe, called on Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to drop the case.
The allegations against his wife are a "terrible injustice," he said. "It is unjust, inhumane, painful in every sense of the word."
In court, the defense said Yourshaw asked for the bottle.
"He was in unrelenting pain. No one disputes that," defense attorney Frederick Fanelli told the judge. "He was legally prescribed the medicine, and he was permitted to self-administer."
But Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Forray said that Mancini arranged for the morphine prescription and gave it her father knowing he wanted to die.
"The evidence in this case is far beyond simply handing a bottle of morphine," he said.
A lower court judge had already approved the charges after a preliminary hearing at which police testified Mancini repeatedly told them she gave her father morphine because he wanted to die.
Judge Russell said Thursday that many older people who are suffering say they want to die.
"Whether they mean it is another thing," she said.
The judge asked whether there was any evidence that Yourshaw took the morphine to relieve pain and did not intend to commit suicide.
That is relevant because under the law, Mancini can't be prosecuted if there's no evidence of a crime beyond the statements she gave police.
"We don't know, because Mr. Yourshaw passed away days later," Fanelli told the judge.
Assisted suicide is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Thousands of people have signed a petition urging the case be dropped, according to Compassion & Choices.
The Supreme Court has said dying patients can receive adequate pain relief, even if it hastens their death.
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