Brittany Maynard was only 29 years old when she discovered that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. After exhausting all of her available medical options and alternatives, she and her family moved from California to Oregon, where the right to die is legal. On Saturday, Nov. 1, Maynard chose to end her life, surrounded by her grieving loved ones. Her young age and circumstances have revitalized the ambivalent debate surrounding the controversial issue of right-to-die.
Human beings are born into this world with the right to life. But does that mean they also get to choose whether or not to forfeit their lives? According to a Gallup Poll from in June 2006, about six in ten Americans support the notion of assisted suicide. Yet, despite this astonishing number, only 5 states in the U.S. support the right to die. Legislative actions had been brought in other states, including California in 2007, but failed to succeed. This is due to the overwhelming backlash from religious groups claiming that life should be maintained, no matter the conditions a terminally ill patient might be in. Moreover, other opponents fervently fear that legalizing such a right would cause suicide to become a social norm.
And that is the problem with their views. Death with dignity is not suicide. The terminally ill patients are simply seeking a way to accelerate their imminent and inevitable death. The ugly truth is that the general public is afraid of approaching the detested topic of death, equating the right to die with suicide. But Maynard’s case demonstrates the crucial considerations individuals deliberate on before they make the ultimate decision.
“After months of research, my family and I have reached a heartbreaking conclusion: there is no treatment that would save my life,” Maynard wrote in her op-ed for CNN. She was sensible and rational in her decision–she did not want her family to witness her painful battle and inevitable loss to brain cancer. She went through a tediously long process of obtaining residency in Oregon just to obtain a comfortable option because her home state did not offer it. Having the choice in her hand let her live the short days of her live in joy, knowing that she could go any time. She did not want to commit suicide, but die with dignity. The right to die allowed her an option to end her life on her own terms, in a comfort and peaceful setting surrounded by her loving family.
Should the right to die proposition return to California for consideration again, it should shorten its lengthy list of restrictions and qualifications. In the original legislation, patients would have to have a prognosis of death within six months to be prescribed such an option. Furthermore, they would have had to undergo much psychiatric counseling and warnings, along with a two-week waiting period. The bill should be revised so that doctors would not be obligated to recommend such an option, avoiding the common complaint that death is becoming a desensitized alternative. However, it is time that the American public stop viewing death as a taboo topic. Death is a certainty in every life, and instead of shying away from it, we should approach it in a rational and calm manner.
Many victims of incurable diseases do not want to spend their final days in the hospital, with their body dependent on several medications and tormented by multiple surgeries. No one has the right to tell others to live their lives with a prolonged torture of emotional and physical pain. Legalizing the right to die would not cause suicide to be a norm, but humanize it and provide a safe and controlled exit for those who really need it.
Photo Courtesy of DeathWithDignity.org