Florida tragedy shows why medical aid-in-dying laws are desperately needed

Medical Aid Death

The tragic recent case involving the arrest of a 76-year-old woman in Florida for fatally shooting her terminally ill 77-year-old husband at his request would not have happened if Florida had rational medical-aid-in-dying laws, the Freedom From Religion Foundation asserts. 

In fact, those types of laws are only legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia. The following U.S. jurisdictions have enacted legislation that allows terminally ill patients to choose how to end their lives in a dignified manner: California, Colorado (by ballot measure in 2016), Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, the state of Washington and Washington, D.C. (Montana allows the practice through case law.) Several enlightened nations allow medical aid-in-dying or euthanasia to varying degrees, sometimes including physician-assisted suicide, including Australia, Canada, Colombia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Switzerland.

All of the U.S. aid-in-dying laws have in common certain requirements that must be met before the act can be administered. For example, patients seeking this aid must be adults living in one of the previously mentioned states with a terminal diagnosis, and a prognosis of six months or less to live. They must also be mentally capable and able to self-administer and ingest the medications.

These practices, if legal in Florida, would have saved tremendous heartache and suffering. Upon her arrest, the woman told police that she had made a promise to her husband that if his condition worsened, she would alleviate him of his misery. Her terminally ill husband intended to fire the weapon himself, but, according to Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young, “did not have the strength, so she had to carry it out for him.” Now she is locked in a nightmare, including being charged with first-degree murder. No terminally ill person or their loving family members should be faced with such a dilemma. Medical-aid-in-dying laws promote dignity and rational death with individual control over one’s departure from life — and prevent tragedies like this one.

Much of the opposition to medical aid-in-dying laws is based on religiously motivated beliefs that end-of-life care encroaches on “God’s Will” or jurisdiction. The Vatican has reiterated its dogmatic opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia, calling it “intrinsically evil … in every situation or circumstance” and labeling it “a crime.” In the black-and-white thinking of the Catholic Church, a terminally ill individual who is suffering and wants to die on their own terms, cleanly and when they are ready to go, is guilty of the “mortal sin” of suicide. The Church has spent tens of millions or more lobbying, mobilizing its congregants and campaigning against death-with-dignity bills, and thereby forcing countless individuals and their families to take desperate measures, or die after meaningful living is long over — after great and unnecessary suffering.

Such beliefs have no place in secular legislatures, which should uniformly pass this legislation. Giving autonomy to a dying person should not be controversial. Nor should social policy be dictated to by the Vatican — or by the officials of any religion in a secular nation.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 39,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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