Bioethics Blogs

Brittany Maynard: A Terminal Cancer Patient’s Controversial Choice

The
cover story of the October 27, 2014, issue of PEOPLE Magazine featured Brittany
Maynard, a 29-year-old Oregon woman with terminal brain cancer.
In the article, Ms. Maynard announced that she would end her life on November
1, 2014, on her own terms, availing herself of the physician-assisted suicide
option under the 1997 Oregon Death With Dignity Act (DWDA). 
As planned, and according to her
own schedule and timetable, she died peacefully at home – surrounded by family
and friends – on Saturday, November 1.
She had signaled earlier in the week that she might delay taking her own life,
but in the end, it occurred as she originally planned.

In
electing assisted suicide, Ms. Maynard said, “I’m choosing to put myself
through less emotional and physical pain.” She continued, “I don’t want to die,
but I’m dying. My cancer is going to kill me, and it’s a terrible, terrible way
to die. … When I look at both options I have to die [dying from the cancer
versus dying from an overdose], I feel this [a fatal dose] is far more humane.”
But rethinking the possibilities after developing a rather extensive plan in
orchestrating one’s death with a terminal illness is not that unusual either.
Roughly 40% of those who obtain the lethal doses of medicine under Oregon’s
DWDA in the end die not from suicide but disease. According to an article in
The New Atlantis, written to report a
10-year experience under the DWDA, author Courtney Campbell wrote, “In ten
years, 541 Oregon residents have received lethal prescriptions to end their
lives; of this number, 341 patients actually ingested the drugs.”

Perhaps
it’s the option – a death with dignity – that really matters in cases like
this?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.