By Kaitlyn Schaeffer
Brittany Maynard, a twenty nine-year-old woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, opted to end her life last year; in doing so, she became the new face of the assisted suicide movement. Following her diagnosis, Maynard and her husband moved from California to Oregon so that she would be able to take advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity legislation. Prior to her death, Maynard recorded a video urging California to adopt assisted suicide legislation:
“Making aid in dying a crime creates undue hardships and suffering for many people who are terminally ill and suffering tremendously,” she intoned on the recording. “It limits our options and deprives us of our ability to control how much pain and agony we endure before we pass.”
The message proved persuasive – after viewing the video, California’s Senate Health Committee approved an End-of-Life Option Act (SB 128) in a 6 to 2 vote. The bill will now be debated by the entire Senate.
Not everyone is so persuaded, however. Many still oppose assisted death legislation. The California Senate Health Committee also heard from some such opponents prior to voting on SB 128. Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, testified that such legislation creates powerful incentives for dying and depressed individuals to end their own lives.
“It’s a deadly mix to combine our broken, profit-driven healthcare system and assisted suicide, which would instantly become the cheapest treatment,” she said in her testimony.
Others agree with her. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC, recently released a report on assisted suicide; Ryan T. Anderson, a fellow at the Foundation, summarized the arguments against the legislation:
“Allowing physician-assisted suicide would be a grave mistake for four reasons. First, it would endanger the weak and vulnerable. Second, it would corrupt the practice of medicine and the doctor-patient relationship. Third, it would compromise the family and intergenerational commitments. And fourth, it would betray human dignity and equality before the law. Instead of helping people to kill themselves, we should offer them appropriate medical care and human presence. We should respond to suffering with true compassion and solidarity. Doctors should help their patients to die a dignified death of natural causes, not assist in killing. Physicians are always to care, never to kill.”
Undoubtedly the debate will continue into the future. Until there is agreement on which course of action best defends human dignity, something both sides claim they are seeking to protect, we will not be able to reach a consensus.