Barbara Mancini, the Philadelphia nurse prosecuted for handing her 93-year-old dying father his prescription morphine, has quit her job and is devoting herself to advocating for state "Death With Dignity" laws.
Mancini, 58, has been traveling the country, telling audiences that she was wrongly prosecuted, that her father's end-of-life wishes were clearly stated and cruelly ignored, and that the hospice involved failed him.
She is haunted by what happened to her father and to her. "I'm trying in my mind to make this right for my dad. I'm doing it for him," Mancini said after speaking to 70 senior citizens at the Free Library of Philadelphia branch on Rittenhouse Square. "And I want to warn people that criminal statutes like Pennsylvania's for assisted suicide are being misused, that what happened to me could happen to them."
Mancini said she treasured a handwritten note from Brittany Maynard, a new icon in the Death With Dignity movement, that she received a day before Maynard ended her life Nov. 1.
Maynard, 29, who suffered from brain cancer, had moved from California to Oregon, one of five states where doctors can legally prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a dying person, so she could chose her time, place, and manner of death. A video explaining her decision has been seen by an estimated 10 million people.
Mancini had written to Maynard praising the young woman for selflessness and courage, and sharing her own reasons for becoming an advocate.
"It comforted me to see your work and the power of your story," Maynard wrote back. "Stories like yours and mine put human faces on a controversial topic that many politicians are happy to sweep under the rug.
"I wish I could have had the pleasure of meeting you in person," Maynard continued. "This letter will have to do. I hope you continue to speak out on behalf of the terminally ill and our right to access dignity in death."
Mancini made three speaking trips to the West Coast in September and October, went to Minnesota in November, heads to Connecticut and Massachusetts for six days this month, and will speak in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming in January.
Her appearances are set by Compassion and Choices, an advocacy group that also produced Maynard's video and orchestrated her media coverage.
"I'm working with them," Mancini said. "I get compensated - less than what I made as a nurse, definitely less, but it's something I believe in."
Mancini, of Roxborough, was suspended from her job as an emergency room nurse at Lankenau Medical Center after she was charged with a felony count of attempting to aid a suicide, facing a potential 10 years in prison.
Her father, Joseph Yourshaw, a World War II veteran, was enrolled in the Hospice of Central Pennsylvania and had indicated repeatedly - in a living will, Do Not Resuscitate order, and hospice records - that he wanted to die at home and in peace.
Yet when Mancini told a visiting hospice nurse that she had handed her father his morphine, the hospice nurse called 911. Yourshaw was taken to the hospital and treated aggressively, but died four days later.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's office took over the case, and claimed that Mancini had conspired to get the hospice to prescribe morphine for her father and then had given it to him with the intention of helping him end his life. The facts emerged that a doctor had prescribed morphine the day Yourshaw was admitted to hospice, but hospice nurses had not given it to him, so Mancini called 10 days later asking for it.
Schuylkill County Court Judge Jacqueline Russell dismissed the case after a year, concluding that state prosecutors had no evidence that Yourshaw had attempted to take his life, much less that Mancini had tried to help him. The judge said the case was "based on little independent investigation, significant hearsay ... speculation, guess. ..."
In her talks, Mancini recounts her story.
"I stand here today as an example of what can happen when laws are taken to an extreme," she told the library crowd Nov. 10.
Kane prosecuted under assisted-suicide laws written decades ago with mentally unstable people in mind.
Under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, enacted in 1997, a person who has been determined by two doctors to have six months or less to live and is mentally competent can request a lethal dose of medication. The law requires dying people to ingest the drugs themselves.
Only three states have such laws - Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. Judges in New Mexico and Montana have ruled that the right exists in those states.
Maynard, a California newlywed, moved to Oregon so she could spare herself and her family a miserable death.
A poll in late October found 40 percent of Americans - as many as 100 million people - had heard of Maynard and her cause, according to Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the Denver-based nonprofit Compassion and Choices and architect of the Oregon law.
"I sense enormous momentum now," Coombs Lee said. "Brittany is the new voice of the movement." Compassion and Choices released another video of Maynard last week, on what would have been her 30th birthday, recorded in August. And there could be more.
New Jersey's Assembly passed an Aid in Dying law last month, although Gov. Christie has said he would not sign it. A similar law has languished in Pennsylvania for many years.