Barbara Mancini, a Philadelphia resident and nurse, is charged with assisted suicide, a felony in Pennsylvania.
Her attorneys say that in February, Mancini handed her 93-year-old father, Joe Yourshaw, his medicine to end his suffering, not his life. Soon after, a hospice nurse summoned police and emergency workers to Yourshaw's home in Pottsville.
In his police complaint, the responding officer reported that Mancini told him her father asked for "all his medicine" so he could commit suicide. Mancini did give her father the morphine, but attorney Fred Fanelli said the police got the other facts wrong.
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"Barbara did not, would not, would never ... hand medicine to her father with even a remote purpose that he was going to intentionally end his life in front of her," Fanelli said. "It's ridiculous, it's abhorrent to even think or say that."
Fanelli and other supporters spoke with journalists in advance of a preliminary hearing scheduled Thursday. That proceeding is an opportunity for the prosecution to present evidence and call witnesses.
Mancini's attorneys say Pennsylvania's law against assisted suicide does not apply in this instance.
The Schuylkill County District Attorney asked Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office to pursue the case. Now, national end-of-life advocates are supporting Mancini and calling on Kane to turn back what they say is a "wrongful prosecution."
"It's our position that he was seeking pain relief. He had been in excruciating pain shortly before that, and we believe this is an absolute misuse of the statute and a miscarriage of justice," said
Susan Roach, a St. Louis attorney, who used to be a prosecutor.
Roach said she has successfully defended people charged with assisted suicide.
Kane's office declined WHYY/NewsWork's request for comment.
Kathryn Tucker, director of legal affairs for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices, said Yourshaw and others choose hospice in order to live without pain as long as possible and to die at home.
"The hospice nurse's call for emergency resuscitation really broke the bounds of that understanding," Tucker said. "It set Joe on a path that was exactly what he hoped to avoid."
After taking the morphine, Yourshaw was rushed to the hospital where he died days later.
"There is something very deeply concerning about the actions of that hospice nurse," Tucker said. "Should that be examined? Probably."
The nurse who called police worked for Hospice of Central Pennsylvania. Director Karen Paris declined to comment on the Mancini case, but shared the agency's mission.
"Our philosophy is to never shorten life artificially, never to prolong life artificially," Paris said. "Death is going to come," she said, and agency employees work to give comfort and support to clients and families.