Let Floridians decide how they want to live — and die


If I’m terminally ill and suffering I want the option of ending my life with a doctor’s help. One in 10 Americans has that right. But as a Floridian, I don’t want to move to California, Washington, Vermont, Oregon or Montana in order to exercise it. I own my life.

Doctors in those states can write lethal prescriptions. No one but the patient can administer the lethal drugs, and conditions in the states’ laws include:

▪ You must be terminally ill, with fewer than six months to live.

▪ You have to be mentally competent to make the decision.

▪ At least two people must witness the request.

▪ Two physicians must examine the patient.

Not everyone’s pain is controlled at end of life. Hospice care, though well intentioned, can be insufficient.

Both of my parents died under hospice care, so I witnessed this first hand. I share with many Floridians the wish that I could have ended a loved one’s suffering.

Some fear these laws will be used too often, but Oregon, which has had this law since 1997, demonstrates that this is not the case. In 17 years, a total of 1,327 people have obtained prescriptions, yet only 859 have died from ingesting the medications.

In November 2014, I saw Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer, tell her story on 60 Minutes. Enduring excruciating headaches, she moved to Oregon to end the incredible suffering she and her family were experiencing. Her family advocates for this legislation today. It was watching that television program that moved me to start the Compassion and Choices team in Miami. We meet monthly in Coral Gables to discuss end-of-life issues.

In the United States, 90 percent of Americans believe in having end-of-life discussions, but less than 30 percent have them. We encourage these discussions and having legal documents ready. We provide tools to achieve these tasks. In Florida, a Do Not Resuscitate Order must be on Form 1898 and must be on the patient’s person and on yellow paper. One meeting attendee was concerned that we haven’t moved to a more technologically driven manner to ensure Do Not Resuscitate Orders are followed.

As a result of media coverage of Maynard’s plight, legislators in at least 24 states and the District of Columbia have introduced right-to-die legislation. It is time for Floridians to demand that terminally sick patients be allowed to approach death without the agonizing worry of a painful process. California Gov. Jerry Brown, who recently signed the End of Life Option Act into law, said, “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I won’t deny that right to others.”

Brown, who once studied to become a Jesuit priest, considered the theological and religious perspectives that define any form of suicide a sin. I have dear friends who are guided by this perspective but they don’t deny my right to have this option available to me. Florida should not make the decision as to how much pain I suffer at the end of my life. Public opinion shows that almost 70 percent of Americans say that terminally ill patients should have the right to hasten their deaths.

Go to compassionandchoicesmiami.com and join the call to expand Floridians’ choices at the end of life.

Gayle Bainbridge heads the Miami chapter of Compassion and Choices.