Philadelphia nurse Barbara Mancini had been charged with assisted suicide in the death of her ailing 93-year-old father

By Nicole Weisensee Egan
Updated May 09, 2017 11:03 AM
Credit: Helio Images; Courtesy Brittany Maynard

On the surface, Barbara Mancini and Brittany Maynard seemed to have little in common.

Mancini is 58, married and a mother of two who lives in Philadelphia. Maynard was 29, a newlywed with no children yet and lived on the West Coast her entire life, most recently in Portland, Oregon.

But in the last days of her life, Maynard corresponded with Mancini over a cause that was near and dear to both of them – death with dignity.

On Oct. 30, Mancini sent Maynard an email.

“I felt a connection with her on a deep level because of what my experience was, so I wrote her a short message,” Mancini, who was arrested and charged with assisted suicide in July 2013 for handing her 93-year-old dying father, Joseph Yourshaw, a bottle of morphine, tells PEOPLE.

“I never expected her to respond to me because her life was a whirlwind and she was dealing with a terminal illness,” she says.

But on Nov. 1 – the day Maynard ended her own life – Mancini got an email back.

“It meant so much for me to receive your kind letter the other day, especially as I’m preparing for my own passing,” Maynard wrote, according to a copy of the email given to PEOPLE.

“Yes, I am familiar with the history of your case and have always been appalled that it was ever litigated,” she wrote.

A judge threw out the charges against Mancini seven months later but not before she was suspended from her nurse’s job, racked up more than $100,000 in defense attorney fees and was forced to watch her father die the type of death he’d done everything he could to prevent.

“On every level it was wrong,” Mancini says. “It still haunts me everyday.”

Preparing for Death

Yourshaw had a living will, a Do Not Resuscitate order and had made it clear he was ready to die, Mancini says. He’d also given her his medical power of attorney. Yourshaw was in terrible pain the last two weeks of his life, when he was in in-home hospice care, yet was not given any morphine or other prescription medication for his pain, she says.

She finally requested – and received – morphine for him. When he asked her for some on Feb. 7, 2013, she handed him a partially filled one ounce-bottle and he drank the whole thing. When the hospice nurse arrived a short while later she found out and the hospice called police.

Yourshaw was taken to the hospital, where he died four days later after enduring excruciating, aggressive treatments to save his life, including being given a dose of Narcan to revive him, Mancini says.

“Not only did he not have his pain treated properly but then he experienced the agony of knowing I’d been arrested because he wasn’t unconscious when he took his morphine,” she says, “and he was forced to endure unwanted medical treatment at the end of his life which compounded his suffering greatly.”

Hospice of Central Pennsylvania, which cared for Yourshaw, said in a statement it cannot comment on a specific case.

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The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, which prosecuted the case, said in a statement Mancini’s comments (which were later ruled inadmissible) that she “provided” her father with the morphine formed a “legitimate basis” for this prosecution.

Nonetheless, the office said it did not appeal the judge’s decision to throw the case out because it would not have a “substantial likelihood of success” due to “absence of evidence” about the cause of Yourshaw’s death.

A Note of Comfort

Manyard’s note said she was well aware of the details of Mancini’s plight.

“I am so sorry you had to endure that,” she wrote. “It was clear to me, in my heart, that you were doing your very best to care for your terminally ailing father.

“That is a difficult job,” she wrote. “As a terminally ill person myself, I understand what the level of sacrifice means for a loving and supportive family on an emotional, physical and financial level.”

The note is something Mancini treasures. So is the death with dignity cause. In early November, she quit her nursing job to become a full-time advocate for Compassion & Choices, the end-of-life choice advocacy organization Maynard partnered with when she launched her online video campaign on Oct. 6.

On the Road

Mancini is traveling the country advocating for more state Death with Dignity laws like the one Maynard used in Oregon.

She shared Maynard’s note at a presentation in Philadelphia Nov. 10.

“I am truly proud to have been able to make a positive contribution to this imperative healthcare movement,” Maynard wrote.

“All Americans deserve access to the same healthcare rights,” she wrote. “I wish I could have had the pleasure of meeting you in person, but this letter will have to do.”

“I hope you continue to powerfully speak out on behalf of the terminally ill,” she wrote, “and our right to access the choice of dignity in death.”

Mancini says she will carry their cause forward.

“I have to speak out,” she says, “so no other family will have to experience such a traumatic thing.”