Brittany Maynard Believes Death with Dignity Should be Available to Everyone
In one of the most poignant videos ever watched, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard talks about why she’s decided to end her life after being diagnosed with incurable brain cancer on New Year’s Day. Thus far, over 7 million Americans have watched her video.
In April, Brittany moved to Oregon with her family from California so she could get access to the state’s Death with Dignity Act, and intends to take her own life on Sunday.
“Her video is obviously striking a chord in people across the nation, and I expect there to be continued interest,” said Kat West, executive director of Compassion & Choices in Oregon. “Brittany’s an incredibly brave woman who decided to use her illness for good.”
Brittany is an exception, and West doesn’t believe people will flock to Oregon because of its death with dignity statute, but said, “Our big push is to get laws passed in all states so that everyone has a choice. Everyone’s not in a position where they can uproot their entire social structure and move to Oregon. We expect
Brittany’s story will cause people to think about end of life choices.”
And, it’s very unlikely there’ll be any negative impact once Brittany takes her own life, West said, because polling consistently shows that people are in favor of dying with dignity.
In an article that appears in People Magazine, Brittany wrote, “I take pride that the Compassion & Choices movement is accelerating rapidly. I ask that you please continue to support C&C's state-by-state efforts to make death with dignity laws available to all Americans. My dream is that every terminally ill American have access to the choice to die on their own terms with dignity. Please take an active role to make this a reality. The person you're helping may be someone you love, or even in the future, yourself."
In Oregon last year, 122 prescriptions were written by 62 physicians, and 71 people took the medication to end their life. Data from 2014 will be available in late January.
Five states now allow patients to seek aid in dying: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.
New Endeavor Unveiled
It’s been 17 years since Oregon enacted its Death with Dignity Act but significant barriers still exist for patients who choose that option. That became very apparent to West after she met with physicians, healthcare providers and volunteers from around the state last year.
Several barriers rose to the top – not enough healthcare providers know enough or are educated enough about the law to help their patients, West learned, and patients who don’t have enough information about end-of-life choices rely on their physicians who may not have the correct information themselves.
The law is cumbersome, West said. When it was drafted 20 years ago, supporters included every “bell and whistle” they could imagine, in terms of reporting and safeguards, and physicians have to go through many more hoops in helping their patients, compared to other medical procedures.
Because of those barriers, Compassion & Choices has launched a new program, known as the Oregon Access Campaign funded in part with a $50,000 grant from Min Zidell and financial support from Lynn Loacker, an advisory board member.
A comprehensive end-of-life educational campaign is underway for physicians and other healthcare providers, and curriculum has already been introduced at the osteopathic college in Lebanon, with discussions taking place at Oregon Health & Science University and at nursing schools. And, a doctor-to-doctor hotline enables physicians to speak with one of Compassion’s medical directors.
For consumers, a team of advocates is being organized who’ll speak to service clubs, the faith community, at libraries and for people living in retirement homes.
“This is a real exciting time for us,” West said. “Brittany has raised the consciousness and conversation not only in Oregon but the rest of the nation about what end of life choices mean to people during their greatest need,. We don’t encourage people to use death with dignity. Our mission is to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. We don’t advocate for a particular treatment or option. If someone wants every treatment in the world, we support them. What we do is advocate that people have a choice.”
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Diane can be reached at [email protected].