“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love.” Brittany Maynard, the woman who became known for her outspoken decision to die with dignity after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, has died. Time Magazine and People Magazine both confirmed her death, and reported that today is the day she chose to leave this world.
Maynard became famous when she decided to move to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s “Death with Dignity” law. There are currently only three states in the U.S. where choosing when and how you die is legal. Right-to-die advocates credit Brittany Maynard with reviving a stalled movement.
Oregon’s law passed in 1994, and took effect in 1997. For another 10 years, according to Time, where candidates stood on the law was a very important political test. But when the controversy faded, so did the movement.
People who oppose death with dignity do so for a variety of reasons. For many, it’s because of personal religious beliefs. Life is precious, and people should therefore do everything to protect all human life until it ends naturally. However, terminally ill patients don’t want to die, per se. They want to live. But, as was the case with Brittany Maynard, nature has taken that option away from them. They don’t want to slowly waste away, going through weeks or months of agony, and putting their families through the same, while waiting for their illness to take them.
Others are misinformed as to what these laws actually do. The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund says that the right to self-determination and choice are superficial reasons to want to enact these laws. They’re fine with the torture that refusing treatment can bring, including things like having feeding tubes removed and slowly starving to death. They’re fine with patients being put into comas to alleviate suffering in their final days. They seem to think this is sufficient.
They also worry that insurance companies would overrule physicians’ decisions to provide ongoing, long-term care, because paying for the lethal drugs is far, far cheaper (perhaps we should reconsider our entire for-profit healthcare system). And they fear that the idea of dying with dignity will heighten the stigma and prejudice the severely disabled already face. Ultimately, they believe that the death with dignity laws will either lead to forced “suicide,” or will not cover all the people it needs to cover. Therefore, they do not want these laws enacted.
For Brittany Maynard, though, it was about her own life, her own choice, and her own self-determination. Those are not superficial, whatever opponents say. One of the few things we can truly control about our lives is how and when we die, especially if we’re terminal. Brittany Maynard left this world on her terms, with touching remarks to her family. She said, according to Time:
“Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type. … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”
Farewell, Brittany Maynard. May your fight revive a much-needed discussion about death with dignity.
Featured image: Screengrab via YouTube