In 2016, My 64-year-old father was a victim of Florida’s free-kill law. He was Baker Acted to the hospital due to an emotional breakdown, he was sedated to death because he was inconsolable at the loss of my mother, his wife, his companion of 48 years. She had died suddenly, the night before, at home. He was shocked. Nobody saw it coming. It was easier for the understaffed and overworked nurses at North Broward Medical Center to keep him quiet with an unwarranted chemical restraint than it was to put up with him begging to be released and crying out in grief over his loss.
On his death certificate, it says he died of old age, but he was clearly overdosed on drugs, against his will. The cocktail of drugs he was given upon arrival was enough to kill anyone. It included: Seroquel, Depakote, Lovenox, Lisinopril, Lorazepam, and Haldol. His medical file documented a past history of having a severe adverse effect on Haldol. His hospital records show he declined the drug and others upon being admitted. In addition, it should never be given with Seroquel, according to the “black box warning” list, because the combination of Seroquel and Haldol is considered deadly.
Other drugs were given to him for no reason at all, including IV antibiotics, though he was not sick, a flu shot, which he verbally rejected, and Narcan, (a drug commonly used to reverse opioid overdose, though he was not given any opioids). I assume this was given in a desperate attempt to revive him when he stopped breathing.
Because of the Baker Act in place, the nurses would not speak to me about anything. In fact, at one point I came into the room and my father leaned forward to hug me. As we embraced and he cried to me "mommy is gone," a nurse injected drugs into his IV. As he fell backward he said to me,
"You gotta get me out of here, they are going to kill me."
When I questioned the nurse and told her he can not tolerate most drugs, and that he was known to have bad reactions, she responded by saying that he was trying to get out of bed and therefore had to be sedated. I argued to no avail. I never saw him awake again. I didn't realize at the time that these would be the last words my father ever said to me.
I turned my focus to getting everything ready for his release and my mother's funeral arrangements. I assumed my father could live through anything and at least he was safe. It was not ideal, but it would only be a few days that he was under the Baker Act, and then we would take him home to let the healing begin.
I didn't know he was on a vicious cycle of drugs,
a combination that would soon kill him.
My father was drugged into a stupor until he could no longer breathe. I had wrongly trusted the hospital to take care of him while I put together my mother's viewing, funeral arrangements and secured a plot for her burial. I had hoped to pick him up to bring him to these life-closing events, but I ended up burying him alongside my mother, holding a double funeral on November 20th, 2016.
It felt like being on a runaway train with no breaks.
Everything happened so fast
I couldn't stop it, all I could do is scream in horror.
Thank God for those around me who were there to catch me at each juncture.
I am well past the statute of limitations to sue the hospital for taking his life away from me while I was grieving for my mother. I will never be able to file a suit. I put up this website in February of 2017 to see if there were others suffering and if I could create change and a FaceBook group. As of today, I can’t even count the number of stories that have come in. This class of people (the unmarried with no minor children) clearly does not have equal protection under the law, when medical negligence causes death, and it’s just plain wrong.
When I tell people the story, for the first time, the moment I tell them that I could not sue, some shrink back in shock. They are surprised or may even doubt that I have a case because it seems so unreal that I can’t actually sue for such an atrocity because my father was not married and I was over 25.
This law makes no sense at all
It’s an arbitrary carve out to save money for big corporations
When I get this reaction, I like to point out that if a surgeon performs surgery drunk, and makes an error, for example, nicks an artery, or forgets to close properly, if the victim falls in this free-kill category, the family can not sue. I have actually heard two cases where a drunken surgeon caused someone's death due to his own intoxication. In one case, the surgeon actually admitted it to the victim’s daughter, to relieve the burden on his own conscience, fully knowing that she would be able to do nothing about it. He literally said he was drunk when he went into surgery and messed up, killing her father.
With respect to my dad’s case, I filed a report with the Department of Health. The investigator met with the hospital. The two spoke and documented their conclusion; that I was just upset about losing my father. There was not a word in the report that pertained to his medical file. It was as though they never even opened the record. Risk management, according to the DOH's reply back to me, had acknowledged that I was angry, and felt that there was nothing there to look at. They agreed and closed the case. There was nothing in the report at all related to my dad's 600+ page medical record. I also filed a report with AHCA. I never heard back from them. Nobody held the hospital accountable.
My heart is forever broken at the sudden loss of both of my parents.
The opposition to ending Florida’s Free Kill law is corporations sitting behind political action committees. They represent special interest groups related to hospitals and medical malpractice. They have deep and endless pockets that they use to hire lobbyists, and they are fighting to keep this law in place to protect their financial interests. They see repealing this law as a financial problem for them.
They don't see beyond the money,
to the core of the issue which is the idea that
when some lives matter less than others,
it is both unconstitutional and flat out immorally wrong.
The forefathers of the United States created constitutional laws to protect its citizens from things like this happening. Yet here we are, violating it in the State of Florida. Free Kill is a breakdown of our constitutional rights for equal protection under the law. It’s a reflection of the breakdown of morality and human ethics from special interest groups who value money over human life.
Research has shown many people before I fought to end Free Kill. Linda Porter had done multiple radio interviews for the loss of her 38-year-old son in the early ’90s. Several cases had been filed in the supreme court. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the law, even after acknowledging that it is unconstitutional. In spite of Florida being the only state with a law like this, that singles out groups of people and puts a label on their foreheads indicating that their lives are less worthy than others, it still remains on the books.
Advocating for change is challenging when you are grieving the victim.
Many people have just gotten tired of ripping off the bandaid in order to affect change. Because of this, I believe the cause to end Free Kill should be a movement of people. It is harder for the corporations on the other side to tire out the masses when they become unified. Today, backing the cause we have active volunteers, information being pumped out both on and off social media, and regular zoom meetings where we comfort our grieving peers.
This law is an embarrassment to the State of Florida.
That politicians can not see past the financial concerns of medical malpractice insurance, PACs, and their complaints of high rates, and payouts in order to keep it, is alarming. Corporate interests own the playing field. The people have been heard, and enough legislators think that the law is wrong for a bill to pass, yet here we are.
This law being repealed could be used to make the system itself better, to encourage hospitals to staff nurses better, so that fewer mistakes are made that hurt or kill people. A repeal could encourage doctors to continue their education, it could ensure that medication is being properly dispensed, and to reprimand repeat offenders and SO MUCH MORE!!!
The landscape of our nation has been shifting to ensure that all citizens are treated equally.
The idea that some people’s lives are worth more than others is the root of all that is wrong, and I expect more from my state, the state that I love, Florida.
This grassroots movement to repeal the wrongful death act has grown substantially because not only are so many people are dealing with this lack of equality and suffering this lack of equal protection, but they are willing to unify for change. The internet has allowed us to find each other and raise our voices together.
If anyone you know has been affected, please ask them to visit www.floridamedicalrights.org and join our Thursday night meetings, where everyone’s story is embraced, and every person’s grief is equally cared for. For some, advocating for change can be cathartic. For others, listening and sharing are important.
FMRA is a safe space for grief healing. I have no other choice than to believe that one day this wrong will be righted.