A young woman in Portland, Oregon will die on November 1st, 2014. Brittany Maynard, formerly of the San Francisco Bay area in California has chosen to die the day after her husband’s October 30th birthday.
Brittany Maynard’s Story
Brittany, 29, married her husband in 2013. Shortly after the wedding, she started experiencing horrific headaches that debilitated her and kept her up at night. While she was on vacation with her husband, on New Years Day, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. More specifically, grade II Astrocytoma, and given 3 years to live.
The cancer progressed rapidly, and in April it had upgraded to grade IV Glioblastoma multiforme, which is a much more severe form of brain cancer. At that time she was given six months to live, and told that even with treatment she could only extend her life to 14 months.
After the doctors told her what the quality of the rest of her life would be like, she decided to end her life on November 1st. She wanted to enjoy her last day of life on her husband’s birthday, so they could have one last happy memory together before she passed on.
The family moved to Portland, Oregon, which is one of the only states with a death-with-dignity law. There, she was able to obtain a lethal prescription to end her life painlessly and peacefully.
Brittany Maynard’s Fight For Suicide Rights
Since her diagnosis and decision, Brittany has been sharing her story and fighting for suicide rights as an advocate for Compassion & Choices. She also set up The Brittany Maynard Fund to fight for death-with-dignity laws in states that haven’t yet passed the legislation.
She says that she will spend every last minute that she has left fighting for the rights of others with terminal illnesses to end their lives on their terms, so that they can have control over how they die.
Her goal is to change the laws so that people aren’t forced to die painful deaths. Through educating others, it is her hope that one day, assisted suicide will be a healthcare option for terminally ill people everywhere.
How Assisted Suicide Works
Currently Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, and New Mexico are the only states that allow physicians to write prescriptions for assisted suicide. In order to qualify for assisted suicide, a patient must reside in the state and have a terminal illness that will kill them within six months.
The patient must ask for the prescription verbally twice, at least 15 days apart. Then, they have to ask for it once in writing. The patient has to take it in the doctor’s presence, but they have to take it themselves without help. The doctor cannot administer it.
The Court Of Public Opinion
Assisted suicide is a very controversial topic. You have people on all sides, making arguments for and against it. There are the religious people claiming it’s a sin, and the alternative healers. The thing is, most of these people have never lived through the pain and suffering from a terminal illness.
First, you have the people who are against suicide. However, assisted suicide isn’t people who are killing themselves, it’s people who already have a disease that’s killing them. These people aren’t suicidal, they simply want to choose how they die, instead of letting the disease choose.
If the option of assisted suicide wasn’t there, people might seek other means. This isn’t a selfish act. When an animal is sick with a terminal illness, we have it euthanized. Why can’t a person decide that they want to die without pain and suffering?
The thing people often forget is that it’s about the person who’s suffering, not anyone else. It’s everyone else that wants them to stay and suffer. If they want to go, people should let them go. Assisted suicide is not a selfish act, forcing them to hold on and suffer is.
There are those that believe that terminally ill people who ask for assisted suicide feel depressed because of their illness. These people are of the belief that once the depression gets treated, they won’t want assisted suicide. However, they aren’t depressed, they just don’t want to suffer. The gift of life isn’t a gift when you have no quality of life.
When someone dies, we often say, “at least he didn’t suffer,” or “at least she’s not suffering anymore.” So, why does society even consider letting someone suffer for months until their death in the first place?
How Assisted Suicide Affects The Survivors
If a person commits suicide for selfish reasons it leaves the family devastated with more questions than answers, and they never fully recover. They are always wondering what they could have done differently or if there are signs they should have noticed, and how they could have prevented it.
If a person dies from assisted suicide, the family generally knows ahead of time, and has time to prepare and say their good-byes so when the time comes they’re prepared. They mourn the loss of their loved one as they would if they had died from the disease, but there’s no sudden shock.
Everyone wants to know that their loved one’s final wishes were carried out. The guilt of knowing that a family member or loved one never received their last wish would be far greater than knowing that they died with dignity, the way they wanted to. They also know that their loved died peacefully and painlessly.
How Assisted Suicide Affects Funeral Planning
When a loved one chooses assisted suicide, they can rest assured that their eulogies will be about the way they lived, not about how they suffered in the last days before they died. Additionally, because they were able to plan ahead for their death, they can also plan their funeral, their way.
Often we carry our last memory of the person who passed with us forever. Assisted suicide allows family members and friends to remember their loved one the way they wanted people to remember them, and not frail and debilitated from a long battle with an illness.
It’s important to keep in mind that some funeral homes or ministers may refuse to conduct funerals, or some funeral rites, for people who have committed suicide, assisted or otherwise.
The right to die is a controversial one, but it affects us all. Some people see Brittany as weak, or giving up hope. However, Brittany is a very strong woman for fighting what she wants and believes in, to the very end. She’s spending her last days fighting for the rights of others to die with dignity.
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