PHILADELPHIA -- No one may ever know Barbara Mancini's intentions when she allegedly handed her dying 93-year-old father a bottle of morphine at his central Pennsylvania home.

Did she want to relieve his pain? Help him end his life? Both?

Joe Yourshaw died four days later at a hospital. That was after a hospice nurse making a call to check on Yourshaw arrived at the home a short time later and called 911, despite a "Do Not Resuscitate" order. In the interim, Yourshaw was given a drug antidote, awoke agitated over his hospitalization, and became upset when told his daughter might be in trouble, according to Mancini's supporters.

"Don't hurt Barbara," he cried, according to Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based group that supports "death with dignity" laws and has advocated for Mancini since her arrest in June.

A trim, silver-haired hospital nurse from Philadelphia, she is just the latest person caught in the crosshairs of the nation's assisted-suicide debate.

While Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont allow at least some types of assisted suicide, and another half-dozen states have considered it, most states ban the practice, and a small number of people are prosecuted in the U.S. each year.

"She told me that her father wanted to die and she gave him the morphine," Pottsville Police Capt. Steve Durkin testified at Mancini's preliminary hearing this month, when a judge in Schuylkill County upheld the assisted suicide charge.

Mancini, a 57-year-old wife, mother and daughter is now heading for trial, while supporters attack state Attorney General Kathleen Kane for pursuing the case. Yourshaw suffered from end-stage diabetes and heart problems before he died in February.

"This chilling precedent could impact tens of millions of baby boomers caring for their aging and dying parents," Compassion & Choices said in a news release.

If her case plays out like most, a judge or jury will sympathize with Mancini, and she will get probation or community service, according to medical ethicist Art Caplan.

"Very few of them turn out to be anything other than motivated by love or concern, or mercy. But a few do," said Caplan, who therefore believes that authorities need to review such deaths for potential abuses. "They're checking to ... establish what really happened. Was it really because that's what her dad wanted, or was she just tired of visiting?" he said.

In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court said patients who are dying and in pain have the legal right to get prescribed medications "to alleviate that suffering, even to the point of causing unconsciousness and hastening death."

Some recent prosecutions around the issue include that of an elderly Connecticut man who told police he had cleaned a gun for his dying friend, and left it within reach before the friend killed himself. He received probation.

Barbara Coombs Lee, the president of Compassion & Choices, called Mancini's case "much more ambiguous and benign."

"Even if the law and facts were crystal clear in this case – and they're not – juries engage in jury nullification. Or, the prosecutors could have their own internal guidelines, their own determinations about malice," she said.

She fears the case will lead dying patients to refrain from talking to loved ones about their wishes. Dr. David Cassarett shares her concerns, especially given the role of Yourshaw's hospice nurse, who is now a prosecution witness.

"I would hate to think that some patients and families wouldn't enroll in hospice," said Cassarett, the chief medical officer of Wissahickon Hospice, part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. "As a physician faced with somebody who wants or seems to want to end his life, my first thought is to engage in a discussion about what's going on and how we can help."

Mancini's lawyer, Frederick Fanelli, argued unsuccessfully this month that Yourshaw had a constitutional right to take enough medicine to ease his pain. Amid a gag order, he did not return a call for comment this week. Kane's office, which stepped in when the local prosecutor had a conflict, declined comment Friday.

"You could argue, I guess, that this is the process that identifies potential (abuses)," Cassarett said, "but it's a lousy process."

Loading Slideshow...
  • Daughter Shares Final Dance With Dying Father

    AUBURN, CA - The veil, the dress, the makeup, the gazebo - it was all perfect. The only thing missing was a groom. But that's exactly how it was planned. The daddy and daughter dance was just for just for 25-year-old Rachel Wolf and her father. Her father is Dr. James Wolf. He's losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. <a href="http://www.news10.net/news/article/251526/2/A-daughter-shares-a-wedding-dance-with-her-dying-father" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing

    By Bronnie Ware <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Top-Five-Regrets-Dying/dp/140194065X" target="_blank">Find it here</a>

  • To One Shortly To Die

    "FROM all the rest I single out you, having a message for you: You are to die—Let others tell you what they please, I cannot prevaricate, I am exact and merciless, but I love you—There is no escape for you." -Walt Whitman <a href="http://www.bartleby.com/142/244.html" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • How To Live Before You Die -Steve Jobs

    Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life's setbacks -- including death itself -- at the university's 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005.

  • Jane Lotter's Self-Penned Obituary

    Before dying peacefully at home through Washington's Death With Dignity Act, due to her advanced cancer, Jane Lotter wrote her own obituary. <a href="http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/seattletimes/obituary.aspx?n=jane-catherine-lotter&pid=166098479#fbLoggedOut" target="_blank">Read it here</a>

  • A Decalogue: Ten Commandments for the Concerned Caregiver

    By Rabbi Earl A. Grollman "Grieving is hard work-- work that tears at you in so many ways. Grief taxes every part of you-- body, soul and spirit. And when loss comes after a prolonged illness you may feel that you have twice as much work. And in many ways, you do-- for you are grieving both during and after the illness." <a href="http://www.npr.org/programs/death/readings/essays/groll.html" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • 'Last Day," from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

    “Charlotte,” said Wilbur after awhile, “why are you so quiet?” “I like to sit still,” she said. “I’ve always been rather quiet.” “Yes, but you seem specially so today. Do you feel all right?” “A little tired, perhaps. But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…” <a href="http://www.npr.org/programs/death/readings/stories/ebwhite.html" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • A Good Death

    One Man's Passing, A Photo Project by Joshua Bright "FOR more than a year, I visited and photographed a dying man named John R. Hawkins. I had found him through the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care when I went in search of both a photo project and a profound experience." <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/opinion/sunday/a-good-death.html" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • Jae Rhim Lee: My mushroom burial suit

    http://www.ted.com Here's a powerful provocation from artist Jae Rhim Lee. Can we commit our bodies to a cleaner, greener Earth, even after death?

  • Dying Is Absolutely Safe

    "Something has happened to me as a result of meandering through many realms of consciousness over the past fifty years that has changed my attitude toward death. A lot of the fear about death has gone from me. I am someone who actually delights in being with people as they are dying. It is such incredible grace for me. In the morning, if I know I am going to be with such a person, I get absolutely thrilled because I know I am going to have an opportunity to be in the presence of Truth." -Ram Dass <a href="http://www.ramdass.org/dying-is-absolutely-safe/" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • The"Coffinmaker"

    Every year, Americans bury enough metal in the ground to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge, says Vashon Island coffin maker Marcus Daly. <a href="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/inmotion/2013/05/24/editors-pick-the-coffin-maker/" target="_blank">Read more</a>

  • Congratulations you gonna die! (by Alan Watts)

    interesting and amusing thoughts about death and dying in our society.by Alan Watts.

  • My Gift of Grace

    Users test a prototype of My Gift of Grace.

  • My Gift of Grace

  • My Gift of Grace

  • My Gift of Grace

  • My Gift of Grace