*Natalie Del Cueto

Florida has the highest percentage in the entire nation of people over the age of 65.[1]   According to the 2010 census, the 65 and up age group composed 17.3% of the State’s total population.[2] Further, since 2011, cancer has become the number one cause of death in the state of Florida.[3]  In 2019, the American Cancer Society estimated about 131,470 new cancer diagnosis’ and approximately 45,000 deaths from cancer.  If there is any state that should enact a Death with Dignity law, Florida ranks high due to the elderly population and cancer mortality rates.

59% of Florida’s population believes “physician-assisted suicide [is] going in the right direction.”[4]  Approximately 65% of Floridians between the ages of 65 and 79 support physician-assisted suicide.[5]  In Oregon, the first state to enact a Death with Dignity statute, the median age for those patients who have died by physician-assisted suicide is 74.[6]  In other words, the largest elderly population in the nation supports physician-assisted suicide.  The State’s population for which cancer is the number one cause of death supports physician-assisted suicide.

Florida is one of forty-two states that criminalizes physician-assisted suicide. That’s not to say the patients and doctors haven’t tried to change this.  The two Florida Supreme Court cases of 1997[7] and 2001[8] brought to light the need to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide.  One of the most controversial physician-assisted suicide cases in Florida was Schindler v. Schaivo in 2001.[9]  This case caused a nationwide divide and debate on the issues concerning the “quality of life, right-to-die and end-of-life issues.”[10] The case involved numerous appeals, motions,  petitions, federal court hearings, state court hearings, Florida legislative intervention, Congressional intervention and even the President at the time, George W. Bush, tried to intervene.[11]

Based on Florida’s statistics and precedent, Florida should propose a change to Statute 782.08, or a ballot initiative to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide and give specific guidelines for receiving the assistance, leaving the matter of criminalizing or decriminalizing assisted suicide up to the voters of Florida.  This new legislation decriminalizing physician-suicide should be enacted with many of the same, or similar, requirements of Oregon’s Death with Dignity statute.

Florida’s legislature should take into account what Floridian’s want; and to 59% of the population, a Death with Dignity law is the way to go.[12] People should have the choice on when and how to die.  Looking at the statistics from the other states, the median age for those who died after taking the lethal medication prescribed in accordance with their state’s Death with Dignity Act is 73-74.  Further, in all those cases, a majority of the population had cancer.  Florida’s population hits both of these prongs—elderly and cancer rates.

Florida’s Death with Dignity law should be modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law.  The law should have the same initial requirements: must be18 years old or older, must be a Florida resident, must be mentally competent and capable to make decision, and must be terminally ill (meaning a prognosis of six months or less). Even in the case where the legislature does not want to repeal Florida Statute § 782.08, there should be an exception for physician-assisted suicide.  It is completely understandable to criminalize assisted suicide in all other cases, but not for physician assisted suicide.  The physician-assisted suicide exception to the statute should encompass the requirement’s laid down in Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, or requirements modeled after that law.

The Supreme Court of the United States left the decision on whether to legalize physician-assisted suicide up to each individual state.[13] The Florida legislature should realize the importance of a decision as big as having the choice about how you die.  Looking at the statistics from other states that legalized physician-assisted suicide, not every single person who receives the option chooses to take it.  But it’s that word: Choice.  It’s your choice on how you live out your last days when a sickness as terrible as cancer has taken that away from you.  It’s your choice to decide when you die when you know you have six months or less to live.  It’s your choice to make sure you die on your terms and not on your illness’.  It’s your choice to Die with Dignity.

*J.D. Candidate, 2020, FIU College of Law.

[1] The US States With The Oldest Populations, World Atlas, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-us-states-with-the-oldest-population.html (last visited Apr. 4, 2019).

[2] Florida Population by Age Group, Bureau of Economic and Business Research (June 2015), http://edr.state.fl.us/content/population-demographics/data/pop_census_day.pdf.

[3] Cancer, Florida Health, http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/cancer/index.html (last visited Apr. 4, 2019).

[4] Derek Humphry, Most Florida people would like law on physician-assisted suicide, ERGO (Sep. 29, 2017), http://assisted-dying.org/blog/2017/09/30/most-florida-people-would-like-law-on-physician-assisted-suicide/.

[5] Id.

[6] Oregon Death with Dignity Act: A History, Death with Dignity, https://www.deathwithdignity.org/oregon-death-with-dignity-act-annual-reports/ (last visited Apr. 4, 2019).

[7] See generally, Krischer v. McIver, 697 So. 2d 97 (Fla. 1997).

[8] Terri Schiavo case, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terri_Schiavo_case (last visited Apr. 4, 2019).

[9]  Id.

[10] A look back: The Terri Schiavo case, CBS News, https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/look-back-in-history-terri-schiavo-death/ (last visited Feb. 22, 2019).

[11] Terri Schiavo case, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terri_Schiavo_case (last visited Feb. 22, 2019).

[12] Derek Humphry, Most Florida people would like law on physician-assisted suicide, ERGO (Sep. 29, 2017), http://assisted-dying.org/blog/2017/09/30/most-florida-people-would-like-law-on-physician-assisted-suicide/.

[13] See generally Wash. v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997); Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997).