Bioethics Blogs

How Brittany Maynard Changed the Conversation about Aid in Dying

Brittany Maynard, the courageous 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer, ended her life a month ago today. She and her husband had moved to Oregon so that Maynard could take advantage of that’s state’s Death with Dignity law. Although Maynard fit squarely into Oregon’s criteria and her death was not controversial, it did change the conversation about assisted suicide in two important ways.

First, Brittany Maynard was young and media savvy. She chose to use the last precious time and energy available to her, and to sacrifice her privacy, in order to campaign to increase the number of states where assisted suicide is legal.  (It is legal by law in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont and by court rulings in Montana and New Mexico.). For a few weeks before and after her death, her name and face were everywhere. She and her husband posted videos on the Internet explaining her decision, and inviting viewers into their lives. I am currently teaching a freshman college seminar, and my students were simply mesmerized.  What had been a policy they thought was just relevant to old people, was suddenly captured in this fresh-faced woman not yet 30.

Second, Maynard was clearly making what she considered the best choice for her, given her tragic circumstances.  A frequent argument against the legalization of assistance in dying is that it will work against the marginalized and vulnerable. It will be too easy for society to accept the death of the old, the poor, and the isolated, rather than providing them with the support and services that would make their final days, weeks, and months worthwhile.

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.