A shocking murder case involving a Florida man with a terminal illness has preceded a debate over legalizing physician-assisted dying.
When the story of an elderly woman who shot and killed her husband in a Daytona Beach hospital bed made national news in January, it was her suspected motive that raised eyebrows: the man had been terminally ill, police said, and his wife’s actions were part of a murder-suicide pact that she was unable to complete. The debate over end-of-life autonomy is nothing new to Florida politics, as both Rep. Daryl Campbell (D-Fort Lauderdale) and Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (D-Broward) proposed medical aid-in-dying laws in 2022 which failed to advance. However, as CBS 12 investigative journalist Danielle DaRos reported, founder Tony Ray of Florida Death with Dignity said this real-world example has created a new wave of interest in their grassroots efforts that might precede a breakthrough for right-to-die advocates in the state. Read the full article below:
I-Team: Should Florida pass a “Death With Dignity” law?
by Danielle DaRosMon, May 8th 2023, 6:27 AM EDT
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — A surprising criminal case out of Daytona Beach is inspiring support for the “death with dignity” movement in Florida.
In January, Daytona Beach Police responded to a hospital after a terminally ill patient was shot and killed in his bed.
The suspect barricaded herself in the hospital room, and created a four-hour long standoff with police.
Eventually, she surrendered — and now 76-year-old Ellen Gilland is facing criminal charges in the death of her husband, Jerry.
Police say she shot him as part of a murder-suicide pact, that she was not able to completely go through with.
“The first thing I thought was, if they had another option, for medical aid in dying, this probably would not have happened,” said Tony Ray, the founder of Florida Death With Dignity.
He said the Gilland case has created a new wave of interest in their grassroots effort.
His group advocates for a “Death With Dignity” law in Florida, which would create a legal pathway for certain terminally ill patients to end their lives on their terms. Currently 10 states and Washington D.C. have death with dignity laws, and even more states are considering them.
This past legislative session, two lawmakers proposed medical aid in dying laws: Representative Daryl Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book.
“Individuals are going to extreme measures to help their loved ones get out of pain,” Rep. Campbell said. “It needs to be discussed.”
Under the proposed Florida laws, terminally ill adults would qualify if they meet the following guidelines:
- A physician confirms they have less than 6 months to live
- A psychiatrist or psychologist confirms mental capacity to make decision
- Patient makes two verbal and one written request for life-ending medication
- Patient undergoes 48-hour waiting period
- Patient administers medication themselves
In other states, the medication is a powder that is mixed with a liquid.
“They fall asleep within one to two minutes, and they are unconscious in five to ten minutes,” Ray said. “Generally they pass away within one to two hours. It’s basically like laying down, taking a drink, and just falling asleep. It’s peaceful.”
While Ray says support for death with dignity laws is growing in Florida, there wasn’t interest in the debate in Tallahassee. The bills from Rep. Campbell and Senator Book did not receive committee hearings.
Ray and Campbell both said they know in other states it has taken several years of advocacy to get laws passed, so they are in the fight for the long-haul.
Opposition to these laws typically comes from the religious community, and from the American Medical Association which has the following statement on its code of ethics: “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
Ray said there is also pushback from members of the disability community, who worry some people with disabilities could be coerced to take part in the program.
In Maine, lawmakers passed a death with dignity law in time for Stephanie Noyes McSherry’s partner, Erik Carlson.
The firefighter and father was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, and he fought it as long and as hard as he could.
“It was very clear that it was going to be a long road of slowly losing him before our eyes,” McSherry said. “And he wanted absolutely no part of that.”
With the support of his family, Carlson applied for the new medical aid in dying program, and chose a date to die: his 50th birthday.
McSherry was by his side, until the very end.
Asked if he was able to pass peacefully and painlessly, she said: “In comparison to what Erik was going to go through, this was the best option, he was able to be able to peaceful.”
One of his last wishes was for people to see the faces of those using the death with dignity program, hear their stories, and understand why it’s an option they needed to have.
McSherry said she’ll continue to advocate for this cause — and that watching the way her partner lived his life, and ended it, has left her forever changed.