Is it a Crime to Assist with Suicide in Florida?

March 1, 2023 Criminal Defense

When someone takes the life of another person, it is considered murder. Murder charges in Florida have some of the harshest penalties if convicted. However, what’s the case for someone who asks for death? One recent Florida case highlights the complexities of the law when it comes to assisting in suicide.

This article will define and explain assisted self-murder charges in Florida, the recent incident in Daytona Beach, and the new terms of the reintroduced Death With Dignity Act.

Assisted Self Murder in Florida

Assisted self-murder, also known as assisted suicide or medical aid in dying, is the act of providing or prescribing medication to a person who is terminally ill or suffering from a debilitating condition, with the intention of helping them end their own life.

In Florida, assisted suicide or assisted self-murder is illegal under Florida Statute Section 782.08, which states that any person who assists, encourages, or advises another person to commit suicide commits a felony of the second degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of up to 15 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

The Florida Supreme Court found this law constitutional in Krischer v. McIver. A physician and terminally ill patient brought a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that this statute violated the Federal and Florida Constitutions. The Florida Supreme Court held that the statute did not violate either due process or equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution, and that the statute did not violate Florida’s privacy clause. The court stated that Florida had a compelling interest in preserving life, preventing suicide, and maintaining the integrity of the medical profession.  

Wife Accused of Assisting Suicide Requests Release

Ellen Gilland, 76, was originally arrested and charged with first-degree murder after fatally shooting her husband, 77-year-old Jerry Gilland. However, after a four-hour long standoff with police officers, Ellen revealed that the shooting was the result of a suicide pact.

According to Ellen, the couple had been preparing a suicide-pact—meaning they were both planning to die together—for several weeks. Jerry was ill and had been staying in the AdventHealth Daytona Beach Hospital. His unnamed sickness took a turn for the worse, and he wanted to kill himself but “didn’t have the strength.” This led to Jerry asking Ellen to kill him, which is when the two decided on a “murder suicide pact.”

After Ellen shot her husband, she was unable to go through with shooting herself. Since the shooting took place in the hospital, several nurses heard the gunshots and ran in to spot Ellen sitting next to her unresponsive husband, who was then bleeding out. The report indicates that Ellen pointed the gun at the hospital employees and requested them to leave.

The hospital had to evacuate patients from the nearby rooms, and police showed up to the scene. A video from an officer’s body camera recorded about 10 minutes after the shooting, which police were heard shouting, “Drop the gun!”

Over the course of several hours, police tried to convince Ellen to hand over her weapon and surrender. SWAT team members used a nonlethal explosive to distract Ellen. The SWAT team attempted to use a stun gun, but failed to subdue the suspect. Ellen shot once into the ceiling, but then dropped her weapon and was apprehended by police.

Once taken into custody at the Volusia County Jail, Ellen was initially charged with first-degree murder. However, the charges were later changed to a lesser charge of assisting with self-murder and manslaughter. Ellen was also charged with aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer due to the standoff in the hospital room.

The defendant’s attorneys are now requesting her release, and have filed a motion for a bond hearing. “None of the charges against Ms. Gilland are capital offenses or offenses punishable by life imprisonment,” said attorney Matthew Ferry. “Therefore, Ms. Gilland is entitled to pretrial release.”

While the bond hearing has not yet been set, Ellen’s next court appearance is a pre-trial hearing scheduled for March 22nd, 2023.

Death with Dignity Bill

Florida does not currently have a law allowing medical aid in dying or assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. However, there have been efforts to introduce legislation to legalize medical aid for legally dying in the state.

The first piece of legislation introduced by Florida lawmakers was the 2020 Death With Dignity Act (SB1800). The bill intended to follow Oregon’s path with their Death With Dignity Act, allowing terminally ill individuals to obtain and use life-ending medications, if they meet certain criteria. However, the bill died in the Senate Health Policy Committee due to legislators failing to bring it to a vote.

Most recently, on February 23rd, 2023, another version of the Death With Dignity Act has been reintroduced to the Florida Legislation. If the bill passes, it will create a new Florida Statute Section that defines and explains the terms and criteria for a terminally ill patient seeking to end their life.

As it currently has been introduced, the bill would define a “terminal condition” as a person who has been diagnosed with a medically confirmed condition caused by an injury, illness, or disease which is incurable and irreversible and which will, within reasonable medical judgment, cause the patient’s death within six months.

Patients who will be eligible for assisted suicide may request life-ending medication if the individual:

  • Is 18-years-old or older;
  • Is a Florida resident;
  • Has been clinically diagnosed with a terminal condition by his or her attending physician which has been medically confirmed by a consulting physician;
  • Is considered competent;
  • Is making an informed decision; and
  • Has voluntarily expressed his or her wish to die.

Although the bill has just been reintroduced, we will follow along with its progression through the Florida Legislature. To read the bill in its entirety, click here.

Pretrial Release

Under the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, every person who is charged with a criminal offense or violation of a municipal or county ordinance is entitled to a pretrial release with reasonable conditions. The only exception to this rule is if the defendant has been charged with a life or capital offense.

During the process to determine whether the defendant will receive pretrial release, the court is responsible for holding a hearing. Then the judicial officer imposes the first of the pretrial release terms. One of the main things to consider is the safety of the community.

If there are no possible conditions of pretrial release that could protect the community from the risk of physical harm to others, the defendant may remain detained. This is also the case if the court is not assured that the defendant will reappear for the trial, or if the integrity of the judicial process is not assured.

After getting arrested, the defendant’s top priority should be reaching out to a legal representative. A Tallahassee criminal defense attorney can assist with seeking pretrial release and other concerning legal aspects.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Unless the Death With Dignity bill is able to pass into Florida law, it remains illegal for any person to engage in assisted self-murder. Even if you believe you haven’t done anything wrong, it could result in a felony offense. The repercussions of a felony include expensive fines and imprisonment. The best way to protect yourself and your future is to work with a defense attorney.

Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience working with Florida residents on a wide variety of criminal cases. If you have been accused of a criminal offense in Florida, make sure you contact Pumphrey Law Firm to assist with your case. Our attorneys won’t rest until they’ve built a strong defense for your case. We vow to protect your rights and work towards earning your freedom. Call Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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