Florida lawmakers file 'death with dignity' bills for upcoming session

As the family of a woman accused of killing her terminally-ill husband in a Daytona Beach hospital room works to have her released from jail, attention is growing on a pair of bills filed this year in support of the "death with dignity" movement.

Ellen Gilland, 76, has remained in the Volusia County jail since Jan. 21 when police say she shot and killed her husband of 53 years. The couple had planned the shooting weeks in advance.

On Thursday, a judge granted her a $150,000 bond, opening the door for her release ahead of her trial for charges that include assisting with self-murder.

"I’ll do whatever I have to do to get her out," Gilland's niece, Bo Timme, told reporters Thursday. "I don’t believe my aunt belongs in jail at all."

What pushed Gilland to allegedly pull the trigger is something Tony Ray, founder of Florida Death with Dignity, has been working for several years to prevent. He watched as his aunt suffered through weeks of pain before her passing.

"Why must they suffer through the very last breath? To what end does all that suffering accomplish?" Ray said.

Through his group's advocacy efforts, two state lawmakers have filed bills in the Florida House and Senate this year that would make allowing someone to end their life with medical aid, in the form of a pill, legal in the state.

"The goal of these laws is to give a person that has a terminal illness the right to decide for themselves, how to die in a peaceful manner, in accordance with their own personal beliefs and values," Ray said.

The bill in the senate, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, has strict parameters. It requires that the individual must be a mentally-competent adult, be diagnosed with a terminal condition and be given six months to live. Doctors must also agree the individual isn't being coerced, and the individual can change their mind at any time.

While there is growing support for the measure, Ray says there likely will be legislators who oppose it for moral or religious reasons.

"We appreciate that," he said. "We understand it, but we also ask that they recognize and believe in the beliefs and values of someone who may want to take advantage of a medical aid in dying law."2

The senate bill has been referred to a committee. Ray hopes it gets to the floor for a full vote.