When Brittany Lauren Maynard was given six months to live in April of 2014, she found herself with two choices.
One choice was to undergo full brain radiation for her glioblastoma and suffer side effects like first-degree burns on her scalp for something that wouldn’t cure her. The other choice was to die through physician-assisted suicide.
On November 1, 2014, Brittany took a medication prescribed to her by her physician and died on her own terms. She was 29, surrounded by the people she loved, and comfortable.
Though she probably hadn’t originally planned on it, Brittany became the face of physician-assisted suicide, a practice that is still so controversial that almost two years later, it is still only legal in five U.S. states. And even in those states, it is only legal under very specific circumstances.
Physician-assisted suicide is defined as a doctor “knowingly and intentionally providing a person with the knowledge or means or both required to [die by] suicide, including counseling about lethal doses of drugs, prescribing such lethal doses or supplying the drugs.”
Opposition and Support of the Practice
This practice is clearly controversial for a number of reasons, whether they be legal, social, ethical, moral, or religious. There are many who are opposed to it, for a great number of reasons.
Some doctors are opposed to it because it goes against the Hippocratic Oath, which states “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.” Though not all medical schools require this oath, many doctors still follow it.
Others doctors, as well as many other opponents, are against the practice for moral and religious reasons. The act of killing someone or killing oneself is something against the morals of many, and something that most religions do not support. Many don’t view the practice of physician-assisted suicide as being any different than murder and suicide.
There also are many who oppose this practice because they believe the lines are too blurred. They question whether it’s ethical to offer this to people who are mentally competent while ignoring all the patients who are depressed and suicidal due to their suffering — which is precisely what this practice aims to prevent in the first place.
But not all are opposed — a growing number of people have shown support for the movement to make this a legal practice all over the United States. Certain activist groups, such as Death with Dignity, Compassion & Choices, and the Final Exit Network are just a few that are working to spread awareness and garner support.
Facts and Statistics
According to a fact sheet compiled by CNN, which was last updated on June 7, 2016:
- Oregon has had legal physician-assisted suicide since 1997.
- After Oregon, Washington followed suit in 2008/2009, Montana in 2009, Vermont in 2013, and California in 2015.
- As of January 27, 2016, prescriptions have been written for 1,545 people in Oregon and 991 patients have died from ingesting the drugs.
- In Washington, 725 prescriptions have been written since 2009 and there are 712 reported deaths.
- Since May 2013, physician reporting forms have been completed for 24 people in Vermont.
It’s clear that there are mixed feelings all over the United States about this practice and whether or not it should be legal. As death care professionals, what are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments below!