The case of Brittany Maynard’s terminal illness and choice for assisted suicide on November 1, 2014 has resurrected the debate about the legal and moral grounds for assisted suicide, otherwise known as “aid in dying.”
Brittany is a 29-year-old recently married woman who discovered on New Year’s Day 2014 that she has brain cancer. After undergoing skull and brain surgery to stop the tumor’s growth, she was advised that her cancer had only worsened and doctors estimated that she had six months to live. She could have undergone further treatments – full-brain radiation – that would singe off the hair on her head, leave 1st degree burns on her scalp and further deteriorate her quality of life. Considering her options, Brittany chose aid in dying.
Brittany was a resident of California when she made the decision for aid in dying. In order to legally seek aid in dying, she and her husband relocated to Oregon and established residency there. Only 5 states allow aid in dying: New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have statutes specifically allowing and setting standards for aid in dying; Montana does not have a specific statute for aid in dying but a trial court found that there is no public policy against aid in dying; therefore, consent can be raised as an affirmative defense at the trial of the suicide assistant.
As of late October 2014, Brittany has obtained the pills from her local doctor for aid in dying, intends to celebrate her husband’s birthday in late October and, if her condition does not dramatically improve, she plans to end her life on or around November 1st. She states that she does not want to die but knows she will die and intends to control the circumstances of her death; if she decides against taking the pills, she will not take them. At this point, Brittany is beset with “bone-splitting headaches that I get sometimes, or the seizures, or the inability to speak, or the moments where I’m looking at my husband’s face and I can’t think of his name.”
In support of organizations for aid in dying, Brittany went viral with her story. The battle lines were immediately drawn. Pro-aid-in-dying individuals and organizations argue for dignity and the right to choose one’s own death. In addition, studies have shown that the unofficial practice of aid in dying is carried out in states banning aid in dying because it is rightfully a decision made between patients and doctors. The opposition usually refers to Christian teachings against murder and suicide; in fact, a Facebook page called “Weluvbrittany” was established by a Roman Catholic priest, not to “cast judgment” on Brittany’s decision but to send prayers, encouragement and support so she realizes she is not alone and “hopefully will come to see that ending her life is not the solution” (which clearly casts judgment on her decision, Padre). Other opponents have sent “open letters” to Brittany stating, “In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you…” and another stating, “I don’t want her to wake up on the other side of her tombstone only to face a dark, grim existence without life and joy; that is, without God.”
Whatever the moral ramifications of her decision for aid in dying, Brittany has followed the law to the letter, even relocating from California to Oregon and completing all required steps for aid in dying.
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