On the night of November 1, 2014, Brittany Maynard took a handful of pills—barbiturates and muscle relaxants prescribed by a doctor—and took her own life. She was 29.
Maynard’s death, however, was more than just that. In the months leading to it, the world was made aware of a long-standing debate about a person’s right to life and their freedom of choice.
Maynard was terminally-ill, having been diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer in January of the same year. In April, she was told she only had six months to live. Because she didn’t want to suffer from the debilitating pain brought about by the disease, Brittany moved to Oregon to access the state’s “Death with Dignity Act”. This legislation allows doctors to prescribe fatal drugs to terminally-ill patients who want the ability to end their life when enough is enough.
Death with Dignity
It was confirmed the following day that Brittany had taken her own life the night of November 1. Advocacy group Compassion & Choices announced the passing of the 29-year-old terminally-ill patient.
“Brittany chose to make a well thought out and informed choice to Die with Dignity in the face of such a terrible, painful, and incurable illness,” a statement posted on her website said. “She moved to Oregon to pass away in a little yellow house she picked out in the beautiful city of Portland.”
Compassion & Choices, who were closely working with Maynard until her death, said she “died as she intended — peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones.”
The post on Maynard’s website contained a final message from her. She expressed her deepest thanks to all supporters, whom she “sought out like water” during her life and illness.
“It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest. If we change our thoughts, we change our world! Love and peace to you all,” she said.
“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type …
Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”
Suicide and Right to Die
Maynard’s death has revived the debate about the right to die. Supporters of the Right to Die argue the idea that a person’s body and life are their won, therefore, they have control to dispose of it as they see fit.
The assisted suicide, however, still sparks endless debates both inside and outside the courts.
In an op-ed for CNN, Maynard clarified she was “not suicidal.”
“I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”
Since Oregon voted to give residents the legal right to die on their own terms 20 years ago, 752 individuals have chosen to take their own life. Oregon introduced the right-to-die legislation in 1997.
So far, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have right-to-die laws.