Yesterday, August 15, 2015, a new effort got underway to end the criminalization for those helping patients with terminal illness pass away with dignity. A new organization, Floridians for Dying with Dignity, created an online petition which will eventually be presented to Florida legislators and Florida Governor Rick Scott. The organization will be meeting with some state legislators in the coming weeks to find sponsors and co-sponsors in both the Florida House and the Florida Senate. The principle behind the effort is that each person owns their own body and should be in charge of their own destiny.
The issue of dying with dignity with the help of a physician came to the forefront of the national media when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She and her family had to move from California to Oregon to die with dignity. In January of 2014, she was treated for a grade 2 form of brain cancer but the cancer returned more aggressively to a grade 4 and not expected to live past six months. Maynard was the focus of a CNN special called “My right to death with dignity at 29.” Although the effort to legalize physician assisted compassionate death is moving forward in California, it has been a bumpy road during Maynard’s effort while she was alive and today still is not legal in her home state.
The effort is not intended for those who are simply depressed or those without a terminal illness, but targets helping those without hope of recovery or treatment end their lives in a dignified manner. The petition essentially copies what has become law in Vermont, Washington, Oregon as well as one county in New Mexico. In those areas of the country, a terminally ill patient would need to meet certain criteria before a physician would prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to end a patient’s life in a painless manner. Space Coast senior resident Jakkie Dickey said yesterday, “It is ridiculous we can euthanize our beloved pets in a dignified way, but people would go to jail for doing the same for us. I’m behind this effort 100 percent.” Boca Raton, Florida resident Carla Black stated yesterday, “I believe it should be a right of the individual to guide their inevitable passing.”
Deerfield Beach, Florida resident, Carole Donovan signed the petition yesterday and said, “I am so glad this is being addressed. I am still in good health but I would not want to be kept alive if my situation was hopeless.” Florida resident Caren Smith stated in a Facebook post yesterday, “There is too much emphasize on quantity instead of quality. Being from the Netherlands I am familiar with this and am astounded by the prolonging of suffering.”
Specifically, the proposal being put forth by Floridians for Dying with Dignity states the following:
“A physician shall not be subject to any civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action if the physician prescribes to a patient with a terminal condition medication to be self-administered for the purpose of hastening the patient’s death and the physician affirms by documenting in the patient’s medical record [the required information].
A patient with a terminal condition who self-administers a lethal dose of medication shall not be considered to be a person exposed to grave physical harm… and no person shall be subject to civil or criminal liability solely for being present when a patient with a terminal condition self-administers a lethal dose of medication or for not acting to prevent the patient from self-administering a lethal dose of medication.”
It would be up to Florida’s legislature what rules they adopt and the main focus by supporters is to see an end to jailing those helping people with terminal illnesses fulfill their wishes. Here are the general rules being proposed by Floridians for Dying with Dignity:
18 years of age or older
Resident of Florida
Capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself
Diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within one year
The attending physician must be licensed in the same state as the patient.
The physician’s diagnosis must include a terminal illness, with one year or less to live.
The diagnosis must be certified by a consulting physician, who must also certify that the patient is mentally competent to make and communicate health care decisions.
If either physician determines that the patient’s judgment is impaired, the patient must be referred for a psychological examination.
The attending physician must inform the patient of alternatives, including palliative care, hospice and pain management options.
Patient request timeline:
First oral request to physician
15 day waiting period
Second oral request to physician
Written request to physician
48 hour waiting period before picking up prescribed medications.
Pick up prescribed medications from the pharmacy
Use of the law cannot affect the status of a patient’s health or life insurance policies.
Physicians and health care systems are not obligated to participate.”