On November 1, 2014, Brittany Maynard will die. However, her death is being planned on her own terms in response to a recent diagnosis of Glioblastoma Multiforme which is an aggressive brain cancer. Initially, Brittany was given only a few years to live, but further testing revealed Brittany only had six months. At the young age of 29 and newlywed, Brittany saw her entire life ahead of her, and the original plan was to fight in hopes of recovery. Now Brittany’s goal is to simply enjoy her final days surrounded by loved ones and live each day to the fullest while spreading awareness about the Death with Dignity Act.
The Death with Dignity Act, enacted in Oregon state in 1997, allows “mentally competent, terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to end their lives with self-administered medication prescribed by a doctor”. Currently, only five states recognize the Death with Dignity Act: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico.
The public has combated the act and at times have compared it to legal suicide. Brittany has responded by stating, “I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were I would have consumed that medication a long time ago. I do not want to die”. Yet, Brittany recognizes that she is dying and plans to do so on her own terms.
On October 6, 2014, Maynard launched The Brittany Maynard Fund, a campaign working in partnership with Compassion and Choices to spread awareness and expand options for end-of-life choices. According to Compassion and Choices, “Brittany’s courage to tell her story as she is dying, and alert all Americans to the choice of dying with dignity, is selfless and heroic”. Despite public outcry, Brittany is choosing to raise awareness on this important issue where many families and individuals do not have the resources to uproot themselves and move to a state where dying with dignity is accepted.
Personally, I am in full support of the Death with Dignity Act. In 2009, my mother passed away from a ten-year battle with Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating condition that robs an individual of their independence and ability to live a happy, fulfilling life. I remember my father saying how my mother would never want to live her life in the condition she was in, yet North Carolina does not allow one to take their death into their own hands.
It was tough watching my mother deteriorate before our eyes for years. I believe The Brittany Maynard Fund will shed much-needed light on the issues surrounding terminal illnesses and the process of dying. This issue is not simply one of death, but a civil rights issue. As Americans, we all have the right to life, but what about death? Do we not have the right to decide when we are ready to go, in peace and comfort? Is it right to allow someone to suffer in pain simply because one physiological part of the body will not let go?
I know my mother would have chosen to die with a shred of dignity, surrounded by loved ones, and people she recognized, instead of the way she passed; alone.
Susan Youngsteadt is a first-year student in the Master's in Social Work Program at North Carolina State University (NCSU). She graduated from NCSU with a B.A. in Psychology as well as minors in Social Work and Nonprofit Studies. Susan currently works at Lake Lynn Community Center as part of the School Based Programs as an intern, working with children ages 5-14 on a conflict resolution and emotional expression curriculum.