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Lawmaker Seeks To Ease End Of Life Decisions But Critics Say POLST Is Step Toward Euthanasia

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit iStockphoto
The Florida Channel

One Florida lawmaker's effort to provide clear guidance for end-of-life care turned into a conversation on death, and euthanasia. Republican Senator Jeff Brandes’ bill would lead to the creation of a portable form patients and their doctors fill out to make sure the patients' wishes are followed.

One of the hardest conversations to have, is what to do when a loved one is dying. But Republican Representative Jeff Brandes believes it’s a conversation that must be had. Both of Brandes’ grandparents died in the past two years.

“It’s come to be my belief we need to find a better way in Florida for people to pass, and to have that conversation happen earlier than to be standing outside the hospital door, wondering what do we do next," he said.

Brandes is putting forward SB 664, which would establish a POLST form in Florida.  A POLST refers to a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment. Such a form goes beyond a written order of Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR and even a living will. The POLST is transferrable between doctors and facilities that treat patients, and it’s written up between a doctor and that patient who map out what the course of treatment will be. But it’s also disputed by some, who say it’s the first step toward euthanasia in Florida:

“Are you signing your life away? That’s the real question people need to ask when they approach a POLST," said the Florida Catholic Medical Association Guild's Diane Gowski.

Tallahassee family law attorney Teresa Ward warns the bill could eventually expand to let others, like estranged relatives,  make the crucial medical decision.

“This is a convenience for the institutions-- for hospice, the hospital-- to let us go easier.  It is a step toward euthanasia and it will be amended to make it easier for someone else for you to mercifully-it will be said, to check those boxes for you.”

The bill does have a one year expiration date and it would apply to terminally ill patients, largely regardless of age. Some say the expiration date should be removed completely.  The Florida Catholic Conference has no opposition to the bill, and it's supported by Tallahassee-based physician Ken Brummel Smith, who also serves on the state POLST task force.

“Advanced directives are very important as expressions of future wishes. but they only receive the care they want 50 percent of the time or less," he said. "Studies have shown, including research I’ve done myself. With POLST, patients can receive 86-90 percent of the care they want, and not receive treatments they don’t want.”

“So many people are in denial about death. And it’s not if, but when, because we’re all going. And so the discussion, it’s time now," said Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner.

And Senator Jeff Brandes believes it will help eliminate uncertainty.

“To answer the questions of do you want more quality at the end, or do you want more quantity at the end. It’s a very important discussion, to have the question of what do you want your goals to be like at the end of your life.”

*Note: The Florida Catholic Conference says it is neutral on the bill.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.