Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Attorney sues for right to die on his own terms

By Paul Pinkham,
The Times-Union

A retired Jacksonville Beach lawyer who says his mind is slowly eroding has asked a judge to sanction his suicide.

James Mahorner, 76, has filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to invalidate Florida's prohibition against assisted suicide or give his doctor the legal right to provide him the same lethal injection cocktail used to execute condemned killers.

"The least I want is an order stating that my doctor can assist in my suicide without fear of the law," he told the Times-Union on Monday.

Mahorner said he doesn't want to die now, but as tiny strokes attack his brain, he doesn't want to linger, either. The way he sees it, even murderers and animals get a humane death in Florida.

So last week he asked a federal judge to allow his assisted suicide provided his doctor certifies that his mental capacity has diminished to a specified level. He said he filed the lawsuit now, while he believes he still is mentally competent.

"This isn't going to come into play until I'm unconscious or incapable," he said Monday when asked why he needs the courts' help to kill himself. "I must make the decision now while I'm capable of it."

Attached to the complaint is a handwritten note asking Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to expedite the litigation "while I have competency."

A spokeswoman for McCollum, whose office would have to defend the state law, said the office hadn't received a copy of the complaint yet and couldn't comment.

But legal experts said Mahorner will have a tough time prevailing in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide.

Though that gave states wide latitude in how to handle the issue, Florida's Supreme Court struck down a challenge to the state's assisted suicide law the same year, said John Knechtle, professor of constitutional law at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.

The state law makes assisted suicide a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Mahorner said in his lawsuit the alternative is a lingering, painful, costly death. He said the government opposes the right to die because it benefits by collecting taxes on the medical costs.

"The government is delaying my death so I will produce for them," he said Monday. "Your government has so much control over you. A lot of people resent that."

Mahorner hasn't told his doctor or his children about the lawsuit. He said he couldn't remember his doctor's name, and the partial name he gave didn't match any neurologist in the area.

When contacted by the Times-Union, James Mahorner Jr. said he opposes his father's efforts to "take the easy way out."

"I can't accept it because he trained all of us to be survivors," Mahorner Jr., 42, said Monday night. "I don't care how bad it hurts to live in your head, that's part of survival. That's what he taught us."

He said he last spoke to his father several days ago, and his father didn't mention the lawsuit.

"He's got a lot to live for," the son said. "He's got grandchildren, children and a lot of people that need him."

Earlier, Mahorner Sr. said he has no idea how long it will take for his mental abilities to dwindle to the levels noted in his complaint. He said he's noticed himself forgetting basic items like his car keys or credit card and having trouble remembering times and dates. But he still drives and said he plays tennis several days a week.

The Florida Bar lists him as unable to practice law because he is incapacitated.

Mahorner insists he isn't seeking attention for himself and didn't notify the media about his complaint.

"Who'd want to be on stage over an issue like this?" he said.

paul.pinkham@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4107

The law in Florida

Assisting self-murder: Every person deliberately assisting another in the commission of self-murder shall be guilty of manslaughter, a felony of the second degree. Florida statute 782.08

1 comment:

Kelly R. said...

I agree with him. The government has way too much control over our lives and our deaths. It's none of their business how or when we choose to live or die. His son is selfish and brainwashed. I watched my mother suffer from cancer, and her pain was relieved only by death. I miss her every day but I didn't want her to suffer for one second. It's hard to watch a loved-one suffer, to want to let your loved-one suffer is cruel. If the man is going to be close to death when this is to happen, then his son is a moron saying the man has so much to live for. We all die, idiot, and you can't make your dad stay around as a vegetable just because you prefer it. The state is irresponsible with our lives and deaths. We allow our pets to not suffer, yet we legislate that our people, the foundation of our country, to suffer protracted deaths. I know he won't prevail, but I hope that somehow, someone helps relieve his suffering when the time comes. We all deserve dignity, especially in death. There is no dignity in being a "vegetable."