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Persevering for the right to die

Florida Rep. Susan Guber has a lot of nerve. In a political climate that has been decidedly hostile to the idea of respecting Floridians' right to die with dignity, the Miami Democrat has introduced a bill that would try, once again, to make state law more humane. She wants to make it easier for terminally ill people to choose not to be connected to artificial feeding tubes.

A hard-fought attempt to do so last year won approval by both houses of the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Bob Martinez, who said he had "concerns regarding the aborting of life _ by the withdrawal of sustenance" and who also said he wanted to wait for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on a case involving Estelle Browning. Mrs. Browning was a Dunedin woman who was attached to feeding tubes after a stroke, against the wishes she had expressed in a living will. She died last summer, six months before her case was heard by the high court, which has yet to issue a ruling on who has the authority to carry out the wishes of dying patients who no longer are able to decide for themselves.

Given the governor's position, it would be understandable if no lawmaker were too eager to push again for legislation that didn't stand much of a chance. But Guber, spurred by the memory of her father's final days hooked up to invasive tubing, filed a bill that would add hydration and nutrition tubes to the definition of life-prolonging procedures that could be withheld or removed under Florida law. She told the Associated Press that she hoped "the governor would see the light this time."

Guber's bill will be accompanied by a Senate version sponsored by Jack Gordon, D-Miami Beach, and Jeanne Malchon, D-St. Petersburg, who won Senate approval of the same bill last session. The House legislation is off to a propitious start, receiving unanimous passage by the House Health Practices Subcommittee along with a related measure by Rep. James King, R-Jacksonville. St. Petersburg Rep. Peter Wallace, a co-sponsor of right-to-die legislation last year, plans to sign on to the Guber and King proposals.

The measure by King, which likely will be combined with Guber's before moving further through the committee process, requires a person to state specifically in a living will the wish to refuse feeding tubes and gives family members the right to override a patient's living will temporarily. That would allow family to delay the withdrawal of a feeding tube for a limited time still to be determined. King's version, which appears to have been watered down to ensure its survival, is less desirable because of these restrictions. King himself voted for Guber's bill in subcommittee.

Legislators who are persevering in this important fight for the right to choose death with dignity deserve credit. Their efforts deserve the support of their colleagues. The people of Florida deserve a governor with a change of heart.

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