Brittany Maynard was diagnosed in January with grade II Astrocytoma. The 29-year-old woman was informed of her condition just after her wedding day. The disease spread quickly into intoglioblastoma multiforme, the deadliest form of brain cancer. She cannot be saved. By her own choice, and because she is a resident of Oregon, Brittany Maynard will die on November 1st.
Doctors informed the young woman that the maximum life expectancy for someone with this disease is 14 months. They described her death as ‘slow and painful.’
Ms. Maynard said she doesn’t want to die, but without any hope of a cure she is choosing to die with dignity in her own home with her husband, mother, and best friend.
The family moved to Oregon earlier this year because of its ‘Death with Dignity Act,’ which was legislated in 1994 and implemented in 1997. Since that time over 750 people have used medication to end their lives.
The debate continues about a person’s right to die. Here there is a similarity to the issue of abortion. Religions and religious people are strongly opposed to both issues. Less religious people and individual rights activists propose that it should be a matter of personal choice.
At present there are only four places in the world which legally and openly allow assisted death.
Oregon allows physician-assisted suicide only.
Since 1941 Switzerland has allowed physician and non-physician assisted suicide.
Belgium decided in 2002 to permit euthanasia, but did not define a method.
The Netherlands allows physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. The legislation was passed in April of 2002, but the courts have not prosecuted cases since 1984.
In other countries assisted suicide laws are clear, and many are not defined. Prosecution of individuals who assist friends or family members with their cessation of life rarely see legal action in much of the world.
The complications which rise from sanctioning assisted-suicide are many. What would be the case if family members decide that one of their own is in too much pain or mentally incapacitated and requires constant care, and urges them to sign papers to end their lives? What if an individual had signed assisted-suicide papers and changed their mind, but were unable to plead their case do to physical or mental inability? There are fears that there may be no end to the possibilities of choosing to end a life, or someone else making that choice for another.
Compassion and free choice comprise the primary reasons for allowing assisted-suicide. Those against it have a valid case.
Listening to Brittany Maynard one cannot help but become emotional; and assisted-suicide is an extremely emotional issue. Her concern about a diminished quality of life is very understandable. She would not only be in severe pain, but slowly and steadily her ability to enjoy being alive would lessen. She would soon need constant care and place the burden on her family related to both care and being forced to watch someone they love deteriorate.
The last item, witnessing the slow death of a loved one touches all of us. Virtually every adult has been forced to observe a loved one in their final years, months, weeks, days and hours. Would we have shortened their lives if it were possible?
The argument will continue, and there is no ‘right’ answer. The answer is personal for each of us, and that’s where it should remain.
Santa Clara University