By now, most Americans have seen the smiling face of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard holding a puppy while relaxing on a lounge chair. But what most have not considered are the months leading up to Maynard’s decision to end her life through Oregon’s assisted suicide program and the decisions impact on the future of end-of-life legislation in the U.S. Working with an assisted suicide advocacy group, Compassion and Choices, Maynard made her decision public and called for increased access for those fighting chronic, debilitating diseases and illness. After completing events on her bucket list, Maynard chose to die in peace with family surrounding her on November 1.
A Vatican official spoke out against Maynard’s decision, calling it “an absurdity” and an “error.” Pontifical Academy of Life head, Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula said that suicide is not a good thing. He went on to say that it is giving up on life and everything it means. The Catholic church remains vocal in their rejection of suicide and any other situations that belittle the sanctity of life. In fact, the Church has spent billions of dollars to defeat proponents of assisted suicide in ballot measures across the globe.
Maynard was diagnosed with a terminal form of brain cancer this January, a short time after getting married. Her disease soon began its destruction of her body as she experienced severe headaches, sudden immobility, and forgetfulness. She says she made the decision to end her life after her doctor described in detail how the cancer would kill her. Maynard did not want to put her family through the ordeal. She and her fiance moved to Oregon to qualify for the state’s death with dignity legislation.
In 1994, Oregon became the U.S.’s first state to legalize assisted suicide. Since then, just over 1,100 people have chosen to end their lives. These are largely older Americans between the ages of 70 and 71 who have lived mostly independently during their old age. Cancer is the number one reason these individuals choose to die with dignity.
Diane Coleman, President and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a disability rights organization, believes any future for the assisted suicide movement is not just about Maynard, but about “the thousands of…ill, elderly, and disabled people who will be harmed if assisted suicide is legalized.” The cost of treating chronically ill patients is massive compared to the $300 Maynard paid for the drugs that killed her. Coleman fears that insurance providers may begin rejecting costly treatments in favor of less expensive end of life drugs. She believes this removes the health care choice from patients and does not properly safeguard against abuses.
Some 66 percent of Americans agree with the death with dignity movement, based on a CNN poll, however, voters in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut have rejected ballot measures to legalize the practice. Elder abuse is a major concern as every major organization, including the American Medical Association have taken a stand against legalization. While Maynard is not the typical face of assisted suicide being so young, the future of the death with dignity movement in the U.S. may gain traction as America’s populations begin to age in rising waves
By Didi Anofienem