Brittany Maynard's public controversy over the right to end her own life has renewed the national debate over euthanasia. Maynard was a 29-year-old newlywed who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in April. When she realized that her condition was not curable, she and her husband moved from California to Oregon for the Death with Dignity Act. This law allows doctors to prescribe lethal medications to patients who are terminally ill. “I want to die on my own terms,” Maynard said. She chose to end her own life on Saturday Nov. 1, and this has left many questioning her decision.
This issue is polarizing and comes down to the way euthanasia is viewed: is it merciful, or simply assisted suicide? Life becomes bleak when you are trapped in your own body. The main debate is whether or not people have the right to die, and if they do, can their death be justified?
I do not believe that suicide is the right course of action. Life is full of difficulties, but that is no excuse for just giving up when things look grim. But that is not what euthanasia is. Terminal illness, agonizing pain and a period of contemplation are the key ingredients to the formula for whether or not a person has the right to die.
It is debated that if euthanasia were legalized, it could be abused in order to cut costs for palliative care, target specific social groups by giving them lower quality treatment and be used preemptively when the patient does not want it. These are all justified concerns that require strict regulations.
Euthanasia would cut down health care costs, but this is only a positive if it is used correctly. Reduced costs should be a result of the law passing, not an incentive for it. People shouldn’t have the “plug pulled” for the sake of dollars.
Specific people or groups also should not be targeted. There’s a concern that doctors will be more likely to give life-ending drugs to minority groups and low-income patients who are viewed as less important based on social status. In the state of Oregon where euthanasia is legal, however, the largest demographics of those using euthanasia have been college graduates, Asian-Americans and cancer patients. Based on the statistics, social inequality in this sphere is only a theoretical concern.
If patients are not able to make the decision on their own due to a vegetative state or lack of speech capacity, then a living will comes into play. This is a document that states your wishes for end-of-life care if you are incapable of expressing them at a later date and time. Medical patients can also typically assign a proxy to make the decision for them if they cannot. Unfortunately, not everyone takes this action, especially if the condition is sudden. In this case, the idea of a living will becomes null and void.
Maynard has revived an important debate and has served as a springboard for the Death with Dignity movement—other states are considering the issue of euthanasia and hopefully will see the good they can do to end people’s suffering. We all should persevere through life, but only if we are still truly living.