Just seven years ago, “aid in dying” or “assisted suicide,” was illegal throughout the United States with the exception of Oregon. Today, five additional states have passed “death with dignity” bills that allow terminally ill patients to choose to die with the help of their physician. Many praise this legislation for allowing patients who are in pain and are faced with no positive outcome, to die on their own terms, without months of difficult and painful treatment as they and their families watch them wither away. In May of 2014, Gallup did a poll that showed that 70 percent of Americans supported the idea that “patients should be allowed to die by some painless means” when faced with certain death. However, while there is increased support for this contentious healthcare option, there is still widespread opposition throughout the country. At the moment, only New Mexico, Montana, Vermont, Washington and Oregon having laws that deem it legal.
On Saturday, a twenty nine year old woman who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last spring brought greater attention to the issue when she decided to invoke her right to die with dignity in Oregon because her home state, California, had not yet passed such a bill making it legal.
Recently married Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California Berkeley University graduate, was surprisingly diagnosed with a brain tumor last year. In April, her doctors informed her that she likely had less than six months to live. Confronted with the breakdown of her body and the loss of her health, Brittany faced an end of life experience that she believed would take a painful toll on her mental capacity, strength of body and functioning. Ultimately she chose to move to Oregon with her family to have the ability to end her life respectfully, prior to the occurrence of this painful and drawn out death.
This past weekend, on November 1, 2014, Brittany Maynard passed away in her small Oregon home. However, she did not go quietly. Prior to her planned death, Brittany spoke out in favor of increased rights for patients throughout the country and the world. She said that she hopes her actions and her voice will “influence this policy for positive change. I would like all Americans to have access to the same health care rights.”
This public campaign that Brittany chose to lead prior to her death has re-sparked the debate about the right to die and has spread the conversation to a wide range of citizens. By utilizing social medias such as Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, as well as her own website and traditional sources, this youthful, beautiful, energetic and active woman used her unique position to rejuvenate this debate and spread the discussion to include a demographic that had been absent in years prior.
Alongside Compassion and Choices, a prominent end of life choice advocacy organization, Brittany tried to bring attention to this issue that barred many Americans from access to choices regarding their own demise. People such as Brittany are helping engage a wider audience who are discussing the pros and cons of death with dignity legislation. Hopefully, stories such as hers will open the eyes and minds of more people so that Americans and citizens of the world can access another healthcare option when they are faced with a painful and degrading death.
For more information about Brittany Maynard, her story and Compassion and Choices, visit: http://www.thebrittanyfund.org/