Dying with dignity: the case for physician assisted suicide

Brittany Jordan

Twenty-nine-year-old Brittany Maynard knows the day that she is going to die.

On Nov. 1, just two days after her husband’s birthday, she is going to take a cocktail of pills, prescribed to her by a physician, that will end her life.

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She has a stage four brain tumor and was given a six month prognosis in April. When she got the news, she and her family picked up and moved to Oregon so that she could have access to the Death with Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe medications to end terminally ill patients’ lives.

Some call this physician-assisted suicide, but Maynard doesn’t think of it that way. In an interview with People magazine, she said, “There isn’t a cell in my body that is suicidal or wants to die. I wish there was a cure for my disease, but there’s not.”

She has sat in countless offices of countless experts and has heard what is going to happen to her as her existing tumor grows and metastases attack other places in her body.

“It’s a terrible, terrible way to die,” she said. “Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”

Oregon is one of the five states that have the Death with Dignity Act, and Maynard is choosing to spend the rest of her days on a campaign to get every person in every state access to the same choice that she has. Compassion & Choices, a national organization that supports each individual’s autonomy in end-of-life choices, is moving for legislature that supports physician aid in dying. There is a branch in Boulder that is working to make Colorado the sixth state to enact Death with Dignity, and it’s time that this made it on the ballot.

Not everyone dealing with a terminal illness is fortunate enough to change residency and establish a team of doctors in order to be eligible for physician aid in end-of-life. There are many Coloradans that are facing six-month or shorter prognoses that have had the choice to die on their terms stripped from them.

Medicine is tricky. We’ve all heard the stories of patients who were given three months to live, and 10 years later they’re still alive and proclaim themselves a medical miracle. But most of the time, that’s not how it works. When dealing with terminal illnesses, patients can’t expect to pass peacefully in their sleep. Cancer, especially, will take everything that you are and replace it with pain and inability.

Those that oppose physician-assisted suicide usually quote the Hippocratic Oath, in which medical professionals proclaim that they will, “First, do no harm.” Unfortunately, a lot of times people wrongly equate harm with death.

No, I firmly believe that sentencing terminal patients to a last breath full of unimaginable pain and suffering is doing far more harm than giving them the choice to end their own lives on their terms, and in their time.

Brittany Maynard will die, and soon. Even if she chooses to not take that medication, her body will fail her within months. And I support her campaign; it’s about time the issue of physician-assisted suicide came out of the dark corners and into the light of debate.

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Death does not mean that we have failed at preventing harm. Sometimes, granting death is the escape needed in order to prevent further harm to the body, mind and spirit. Everyone suffering from a terminal illness deserves the choice to end it with dignity, because it’s their pain and their life.

Collegian Columnist Brittany Jordan can be reached at letters@collegian.com