ORLANDO, Fla. – Last Saturday, 76-year-old Ellen Gilland shot and killed her husband in his hospital bed, according to Daytona Beach Police.
He was terminally ill, and she and her husband planned his killing, police said.
She is now charged with first-degree murder.
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When News 6 posted the story online, many readers came out in support of Gilland because she said she was fulfilling her husband’s wishes.
There are several states where medical aid in dying is legal. Florida is not one.
But there is a new push to pass “death with dignity” legislation in Florida.
Gilland told police her husband asked her to do it.
It is a request Peg Sandeen’s husband also made to her.
“I’ve seen this desperate situation before. I’ve experienced it personally,” Sandeen said.
Sandeen’s husband John was diagnosed with HIV in 1989 when the prognosis was grim and the suffering acute.
“He asked me to actually kill him,” Sandeen told News 6.
She wrote about her husband asking her to help him die on Huffpost.com.
“I was in shock,” Sandeen said.
“In my mindset at the time. That was murder, right?” she said. “But he was suffering and I wanted his suffering to end. His doctor couldn’t do anything about it. His nurses couldn’t do anything about it. And so it just felt like unnecessary suffering.”
Sandeen says she couldn’t help her husband, but the experience led her to “Death with Dignity,” a non-profit organization that focuses on end-of-life advocacy and policy reform. Sandeen is now the CEO.
In 1997, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act took effect and since then 9 other states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation.
During the 21-22 legislative session, medical aid in dying bills were introduced in 12 other states.
“If you think of us as a social justice movement for people with a terminal illness, we’re very young. We’re only 30 years old,” Sandeen said.
In states where it’s legal, patients who meet the requirements can request a prescription from their doctor of a lethal dose of medications — allowing the patient to decide when they die.
In 2020, former Florida Sen. Kevin Rader introduced Senate Bill 1800, Death with Dignity.
“The bill didn’t go anywhere,” Rader said. “It didn’t have a committee meeting. It was practically dead on arrival,” Rader said.
Rader says the bill mirrored Oregon’s, and laid out the requirements for “an individual to request medication for the purpose of ending their life in a humane and dignified manner.”
Under the bill, you had to be 18, a resident of Florida, clinically diagnosed with a terminal condition by two physicians and competent to make an informed decision.
While it didn’t have legislative support, Rader says it did spark a discussion.
“I had a lot of press, and a lot of individuals who call me thanking me for filing the bill,” Rader said.
In November of 2020, a Brevard County man started Florida Death with Dignity.
The organization says it now has senate support for a proposed Florida End of Life Options Act, but Sandeen says it likely won’t happen quickly.
“I am so excited about the grassroots work that they’re doing in Florida to get this law passed. It might be a while but, I think we will definitely see progress,” Sandeen said.
In other states, Sandeen says it has taken 10-15 years to get the legislation passed.
The statutes also require the person to have a prognosis of 6 months to live and they must be able to administer the medication themselves.
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