Moderated by Rick Badie
In November, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old terminally ill woman, took her own life under Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. Lawmakers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wyoming are considering similar bills. Where does this region stands as it relates to the right to end one’s life? Expect lobbying efforts for a Georgia law during the 2015 General Assembly, writes the state president of an aid-in-dying advocacy group. Meanwhile, a pro-life advocate questions the ethics of such a life-ending medical option.
We should honor Brittany’s legacy
By Perry Mitchell
“There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die. I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease, but there’s not.” — Brittany Maynard
Can you imagine being a bright, energetic young woman of just 29 and saying those words?
In January, Brittany received a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, which proved so aggressive her doctors gave her just months to live. She chose to spend some of that time publicly advocating for death with dignity.
Why did Brittany speak out so forcefully?
“The amount of sacrifice and change my family had to go through for me to get legal access to death with dignity — changing our residency, establishing a new team of doctors, finding a new place to live — was profound,” she said. “There are tons of Americans who don’t have that time or ability or finances, and I don’t think that’s right or fair.”
Once Brittany made her decision, she contacted Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest organization that works to improve end-of-life issues. Unfortunately, death with dignity is authorized in only five states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont. Brittany lived in California, so her family had to move to Oregon to access its death with dignity law.
National polls show nearly 70 percent of Americans support the option of death with dignity. Why should geography determine when and how a competent adult with a terminal illness is allowed to end her suffering?
Death with dignity laws typically have strict safeguards regulating the medical practice of aid in dying. Two physicians must attest the patient has six months or less to live and that the patient is mentally competent. And only a tiny percentage of people who die use them. In Oregon, where the state health authority has kept rigorous records for 17 years, it’s 0.2 percent of deaths. As most of you know, on Nov. 1, Brittany did make the choice to end her life — peacefully, at home, surrounded by family.
In Georgia, we’re constrained by a law making it a felony for anyone, including doctors, “to offer to assist in the commission of a suicide.” There are no exceptions for adult terminally ill patients – no matter if their doctors have attested they have just months to live; no matter if they are mentally competent; no matter how severe their pain may be.
However, because of the outpouring of nationwide support for Brittany choosing aid in dying, Compassion & Choices intends to introduce death with dignity legislation in as many states as possible.
Very soon, we’ll begin to line up legislative sponsors in Georgia for this January’s General Assembly. If you want to honor Brittany’s legacy — if you think it should be your decision, your right, to control your own life all the way to your final days — you need to speak out as forcefully as Brittany did. Contact your state legislators; contact Compassion & Choices at georgia.candc.org.
Perry Mitchell is Georgia chapter president of Compassion & Choices.
Life is a gift
By Kathleen Gallagher
“My life. My death. My choice.”