Central Figure in Florida Euthanasia Debate Dies
Jul. 19, 1989
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) _ A woman who was a central figure in Florida's right-to-die debate has died of natural causes before the issue could be settled, but a relative says she will continue the legal fight.
Estelle M. Browning died 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.
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.
Doris Herbert, 80, Mrs. Browning's legal guardian, second cousin and only living relative, said she will continue the legal battle to uphold such a will because ''it might help someone else.''
''I'm sorry that things turned out the way they did, that she had to suffer for 2 1/2 years,'' said Ms. Herbert. ''I wanted more than anything for her to live ... (but) I also wanted her wishes carried out.''
The 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.
In September 1988, Ms. Herbert asked that intravenous tubes giving Mrs. Browning nourishment be removed from her arm to carry out her wishes.
But a Pinellas Circuit Judge refused in April to allow the tube to be removed.
The Pinellas County state attorney's office said the case involved more than Mrs. Browning's living will. It ''constitutes genocide of the elderly,'' says prosecutor C. Marine King.
In March, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that Ms. Herbert, as Mrs. Browning's legal guardian, had the right to order the feeding tubes be withdrawn.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, where it is pending. The appellate court ruled that Mrs. Browning's constitutional right of privacy extended to refusing such treatment, but asked the state's high court to consider the case as a matter of great public importance.
As a church volunteer, Mrs. Browning used to visit nursing homes where she saw patients hooked to life-support machines. She signed a living will in November 1985 asking that her death not be prolonged artificially. ''I can go in peace when my time comes,'' she told witnesses John and Rose King.
Ms. Herbert moved to Dunedin from Albany, N.Y., to live with Mrs. Browning in 1982, four years after Mrs. Browning's husband, Frank, died. The two ''were like sisters throughout their lives,'' said George Felos, Ms. Herbert's lawyer.
''It is hoped that the Florida Supreme Court ... removes the government from the patient's deathbed, and leaves decisions in these matters to be made by the patient and the patient's family,'' Felos said.
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 that removing the feeding tubes would end her life.
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. He said the Legislature had prematurely decided a controversial question without guidance from the state Supreme Court.