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Central Figure in Florida Euthanasia Debate Dies

July 18, 1989

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) _ Estelle M. Browning, a central figure in Florida’s debate over the right- to-die issue, died the way she never wanted to: alone, in a nursing home, hooked up to a feeding tube.

Mrs. Browning died of natural causes at about 6 p.m. Sunday at the Sunset Point Nursing Center in Clearwater, where she had stayed since a debilitating stroke 2 1/2 years ago. She was 89.

″This case and this issue won’t go away,″ George Felos, attorney for Doris Herbert, Mrs. Browning’s legal guardian and second cousin, said at a news conference Monday.

″For one Estelle Browning, there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of people like her in Florida,″ Felos said.

Mrs. Browning drafted a ″living will″ before she suffered the stroke, asking not to be kept alive by artificial means if her death appeared to be imminent. But a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge refused to allow the feeding tube to be removed despite the will.

Her case is destined for the Florida Supreme Court and may clarify whether people have the right to refuse extraordinary medical procedures that will prolong their lives.

″I’m sorry that things turned out the way they did, that she had to suffer for 2 1/2 years,″ said Ms. Herbert, 80. ″I wanted more than anything for her to live ... (but) I also wanted her wishes carried out.″

Ms. Herbert, Mrs. Browning’s only relative, in 1988 requested that artificial life support be terminated to carry out her cousin’s wishes. She said she will continue the legal battle, despite her cousin’s death, because ″it might help someone else.″

State law allows patients to refuse food and water only if they are competent and are terminally ill. Doctors testified that Mrs. Browning was never terminally ill, although they said she couldn’t speak and had difficulty moving and removing the feeding tubes would end her life.

Judge Thomas E. Penick Jr. denied Ms. Herbert’s request in March to disconnect her life support. But in April, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that Ms. Herbert, as Mrs. Browning’s legal guardian, had the right to order the removal of her feeding tubes.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, where it is pending. Assistant State Attorney C. Marie King said she likely will ask the high court to continue its consideration of the case.

In a court brief, King said that permitting feeding tubes to be removed in cases like Mrs. Browning’s ″should not be allowed because it actually constitutes genocide of the elderly.″

Earlier this month, Gov. Bob Martinez vetoed a bill that would have allowed people with living wills to refuse to be put on life-support machines and feeding tubes, so long as doctors agreed they were ineffective.

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