In early November, 29 year-old Brittany Maynard took her own life with the assistance of a lethal dose of medication prescribed by her doctor. Prior to her death Maynard had led a public discussion about the “right to die” movement questions about physician-assisted suicide, and allowed millions of Americans to begin discussing issues that are so often ignored or hidden.
Britney Maynard and Physician-Assisted Suicide
In January 2014, Maynard learned that she had an inoperable stage-four brain tumor. Her doctors advised her that she had only six months to live, and she should begin making preparations for how she wanted to spend her final days.
At the time, Maynard was a resident of the state of California. California, like Oklahoma and Kansas, prohibits physician-assisted suicide. However, Maynard decided to relocate to the state of Oregon, one of a small number of states that have laws that allow physicians to assist terminally ill patients who wish to take their own lives.
In early November, Maynard acquired a lethal dosage of medication from her physician and used it to take her own life.
The “right to die” movement is one that seeks to persuade legislatures and states around the country to adopt laws that permit people to take their own lives using physician-assisted methods. Currently, only Washington, Oregon, and Vermont have adopted “right to die” laws, while Montana permits physician assisted suicide because the state court has ruled it is not prohibited. Almost all other states specifically prohibit physician assisted suicide while the legality of this issue is still unclear in a few states.
Even though neither Kansas nor Oklahoma has a right to die law, it is nevertheless important for everyone to consider what they would want to happen in the event they become diagnosed with a terminal illness. In Maynard’s situation, her brain tumor left her suffering from increasingly severe, and more frequent, seizures. As the tumor grew, she also began experiencing symptoms that mimic those suffered by people who have had a stroke.
In situations where people have serious and terminal diseases, those conditions can often render those people incapacitated. An incapacitated person is someone who does not have the ability to either make or express his or her own choice. When someone becomes incapacitated, someone else must step in to make decisions on that person’s behalf.
Should you become incapacitated, will your friends and family know what you want? If you have not created an estate or incapacity plan, you have no way of knowing the answer to this question. Discussing end-of-life issues, health care concerns, and taking the time to think about what you want to happen to you when you face your own mortality is absolutely important regardless of whether you are currently facing serious health issues or not.
Parman & Easterday