Brittany Maynard, Assisted Suicide Advocate, Ends Her Life

Marcia Frellick

November 03, 2014

Brittany Maynard, 29, who was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma, a terminal and aggressive brain tumor, ended her life Saturday in Portland, Oregon, with a fatal dose of barbiturates a physician prescribed.

The nonprofit organization Compassion & Choices, which partnered with Maynard in October and established a fund in her name to advocate for promoting right-to-die legislation, announced her death Sunday. The decision came after Maynard's tortured process in choosing the right day to die.

In a video released October 29, she said she was reconsidering the early November date she had set because she felt well. But losing her capacity to make the choice was one of her greatest fears. "I risk it every day, every day that I wake up," she said.

On Sunday, Compassion & Choices posted on Facebook that she "passed peacefully in her bed surrounded by close family and loved ones."

Maynard was married in September 2012 and diagnosed in January 2014. After she was told in April that she would have 6 months to live, she and her family moved from California's San Francisco Bay area to Oregon, one of five states, in addition to Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico, that allow physician-assisted suicide.

Country Divided on Practice

Physician-assisted suicide has been heatedly debated, and a national poll taken by the Pew Research Center in 2013 shows the country is divided: 47% approve of the practice and 49% disapprove. Those numbers are virtually unchanged since Pew asked the question in 2005.

Physicians also wrestle with the role they are asked to play in such scenarios.

As reported in Medscape Medical News, in the United Kingdom, British physicians are debating whether to legalize the practice. The British Medical Association is opposed, but its subsidiary journal, the BMJ, is in favor.

A Medscape poll that accompanied the story asked readers worldwide: Do you approve or disapprove of physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients? More than half, 54%, said they strongly approved; 24% strongly disapproved, 17% somewhat approved, 3% somewhat disapproved, and 2% were uncertain.

When asked whether, if you lived outside the United Kingdom, you would want physician-assisted suicide to be legalized in your country if it is not already legal, 69% answered yes, 26% answered no, and 5% were uncertain.

Young Age Adds to Debate

Maynard's age brought a new image of assisted suicide to the debate that typically centers on much older patients.

In a previous Medscape commentary, Art Caplan, PhD, director, Division of Medical Ethics, New York University Langone Medical Center, New York City, said Maynard's death may speak to a new generation.

"Critics are worried about her partly because she's speaking to that new audience, and they know that the younger generation of America has shifted attitudes about gay marriage and the use of marijuana, and maybe they are going to have that same impact in pushing physician-assisted suicide forward....

"My forecast is that we are going to see more push to put these laws in front of state legislatures and to get them on state ballots," he concludes. "We are going to see more states move in this direction."


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