Trigger warning: This post deals with the themes of assisted death and suicide. If it brings up any issues for you, contact Lifeline: 131 114.
By JAMILA RIZVI.
Brittany Maynard might die tomorrow. Or she might not.
But regardless of whether her much publicised plan to die on 1 November 2014 eventuates, 29-year-old Maynard has won a major battle for the rights of terminally ill people to end their lives with dignity. She will have also made a personal choice, which should be respected and empathised with.
Brittany Maynard is living with terminal brain cancer; she is not expected to live beyond 2014. She has a loving husband, a family who adore her and countless reasons to want to stay alive. She and her family relocated from California to Oregon earlier this year because Oregon is one of only five US states whose laws would allow Maynard to commit suicide with the assistance of a doctor.
An advocate for national laws to allow physician assisted suicide, Maynard has been outspoken about her right to die on her own terms and at a time of her own choosing.
The effects of Maynard’s disease would likely see her quality of life severely limited in the final weeks of her life and even with medical assistance, her pain levels would be severe.
This physical distress would only be compounded by the devastating psychological effects of being less than 30-years-old and knowing your life could be over at any minute. Given her circumstance, Maynard, understandably, wanted ownership of her own fate. She did not to walk through the years – or what’s left of those years – that should be her shiniest, wondering when she’s going to succumb to the rapid deterioration of her own brain.
Maynard has been prescribed medicine under Oregon’s ‘Dying with Dignity’ laws that will allow her to take her own life in an immediate and painless way. Through her YouTube video, which has been viewed a massive 8.8 million times to day, Maynard shared her decision to die with the world and elected 1 November 2014 as the date she would take the fatal medicine; her family and physician friend by her side.
In sharing her decision to die so publicly and so eloquently arguing the case for physician assisted suicide to be more broadly available, Maynard has became somewhat of a poster girl for the dying with aid movement. She is young and vibrant, her situation is genuinely heart-breaking and her strength of character and sense of self are seemingly immovable.
But today Maynard released another video, in which she suggested that she may not proceed with her suicide tomorrow as planned. She said:
“If November 2nd comes along and I’ve passed, I hope my family is still proud of me and the choices I made. And if November 2nd comes along and I’m still alive, I know that we’ll just still be moving forward as a family out of love for each other and that that decision will come later.”
“I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now, but it will come because I feel myself getting sicker, it’s happening each week.”
No doubt, Maynard’s decision not to possibly proceed with her suicide on the pre-announced date will attract a whole lot of publicity she doesn’t want.
Those who oppose physician-assisted suicide are likely to pounce on this change of heart, using it as ‘evidence’ that nobody can ever be truly sure that they want to die. It is a common argument of those who oppose the right to die, to give the example of individuals who have attempted suicide, survived and ultimately found happiness. Proof, they argue, that a change of mind is always possible and you never know what health, miracle or medical advancement the next day will bring.