Bioethics Blogs

Ms. Maynard was Right – Assisted Suicide Should Be Legal Everywhere

Mark Bernstein suggests that terminally ill patients should have the option of assisted suicide.

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Brittany Maynard was in the prime her life when she was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most malignant and deadly form of brain cancer. The best available treatment consists of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (a pill, not intravenous) along with steroids to decrease brain swelling. Sometimes experimental treatments are undertaken. In spite of all this the vast majority of patients are dead within two years. Often patients suffer the side effects of the treatment, like hair loss, lethargy, depressed immunity causing infections, and facial bloating and weight gain from the prolonged use of steroids. Eventually they lose brain function like the ability to speak or move an arm or walk and ultimately they lose cognitive function. As a senior neurosurgeon who has dedicated his life to the care of patients with Ms. Maynard’s type of tumor and has treated thousands of such patients, I can attest to the poor quality of life many patients with glioblastoma endure.

And yes, there are a few happy stories of long-term and high-quality survival. In fact about 5% of patients survive at least 5 years (see here and here). So one could argue that Ms. Maynard may have been a little premature in her planned exit and may have had months or even years of happy life left, although we have no details of her specific case. But she was worried about missing the window of opportunity for when she was still able to make the decision about her future instead of having that decision falling to others.

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.