Euthanasia, or “mercy killing,” is the act of taking someone’s life who no longer wishes to live. In these situations, the person who wants to die tends to be older and have a terminal illness or another debilitating medical condition.
Florida is known for having one of the biggest populations of seniors in the United States. Because there are so many older people living here, the topic of euthanasia is a relevant legal question regarding estate planning.
Euthanasia and the Law
Oregon is the only state that currently allows physician-assisted suicide, called the Death with Dignity Act. In Oregon, terminally ill patients are allowed to end their lives through voluntary self-administration of lethal medications prescribed by a physician for that sole purpose.
Chapter 765 Section 309 of the Florida Statutes, however, clearly states that mercy killing or euthanasia is not condoned, authorized, or approved in the state. That same section, however, does say that withdrawing life-prolonging procedures from a patient isn’t a suicide.
Health Care Advance Directives
Although euthanasia isn’t legal in Florida, there are other options available to you regarding health decisions. Every competent adult has the right to make their own decisions about their health, including the right to choose or refuse medical treatment.
An advance directive is a written or oral statement about the medical decisions that should be made in the event you are unable to make them for yourself when the time comes. Some people create an advance directive when they find out they have a terminal disease, while others make them when they’re healthy as part of regular estate planning.
When a person is no longer able to make their own decisions, they are considered incapacitated. The laws in Chapter 765 ensure that an incapacitated person’s wishes regarding their health care are still respected and followed.
There are three types of advance directives:
- Living will. A living will is a written or oral statement about the kind of medical care you do or don’t want if you become unable to make your own decisions. It is called a living will because it takes effect while you’re still living.
- Health care surrogate designation. A health care surrogate designation is a document naming another person as your representative to make medical decisions for you when you can no longer make them for yourself. You can also include instructions involving any treatments you want or don’t want.
- Anatomical donation. An anatomical donation is a document that expresses your wish to donate all or part of your body at the time of your death. You can also express your wish to be an organ donor on your driver’s license, by signing a uniform donor form, or by stating this in your living will.
If you decide to create an advance directive, make sure the people in your life are aware of the advance directive. By discussing it with the people in your life and the person who may end up making medical decisions for you, it will better assure that your wishes will be carried out the way you want. You may also want to keep a card in your wallet that says you have an advance directive.
While an attorney isn’t necessary to complete an advance directive, you may want to consult with an established estate planning lawyer to discuss your specific situation.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.