It is highly unlikely that 29 year old Brittany Maynard would choose to become famous because of her choice to end her life prematurely.
The cover article in PEOPLE Magazine October 27 th edition outlines her struggle with a fatal brain cancer and her decision to choose physician assisted death on November 1. She has chosen to postpone that decision because she still has a reasonable quality of life. Apparently she has not decided to change her mind about her ultimate choice.
She is the poster person for a powerful movement to bring personal choice to the issue of death. It is about dying with whatever grace and dignity one can possess in the face of life’s inevitable end. It is about choosing to avoid the loss of control, degradation of the body and suffering for oneself and one’s loved-ones.
Of course controversy surrounds these issues. The role of physicians in the process is equally charged. I for one believe we need to air this debate openly and bring it to the public forum. I regard it as an area of bioethics, the law and spirituality intersect.
Oregon remains one of five states with Death-with-dignity laws on the books. Other states including New Jersey have begun the legislative process. Organizations such as Compassion & Choices are strong advocates for legislative action as well as personal support for patients and families battling these issues.
All of us need to think seriously about how we want to end our lives. Death being what it is, many will not have the opportunity to choose how and under what circumstances it will occur.
The aftermath of Oregon’s experience in the 14 + years since the law was enacted should alleviate some of the fears of its opponents. Massive numbers of people did not move to the state in order to facilitate their own death. The law is restrictive in many ways. It insists that depression and psychological issues not be the diagnosis. A prognosis of six months or less must be documented by more than one physician. The patient must be physically and mentally capable of ingesting the lethal dose of barbiturates. In practice nearly one third of patients who qualify for the law and have the drugs DO NOT use them. But they feel empowered that they have the choice to do so. And fears that Hospice or palliative care options would be abandoned have proven false. In fact their utilization has increased. Patients are more apt to make use of all available support because of the increased public awareness of end of life choices.
So let us appreciate the courage of Ms Maynard to share her public tragedy which will ultimately be for the benefit of us all.