Opinion: US should allow its citizens death with dignity


“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

On Nov. 1, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took her own life under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Her actions have caused quite a stir within our nation, prompting many to think about the quote above, taken from the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Although this amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, to what extent can its words be applied in Maynard’s situation?

Death with Dignity

Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act on Oct. 27, 1997. The act said terminally ill Oregonians are allowed to end their own lives with lethal medications as long as it is self-administered. If someone is too sick and is unable to do it by him or herself, a doctor or family member cannot do it for them. A physician must prescribe the medication for that exact purpose.

There has been a steady increase in usage of the Death with Dignity Act since it was enacted. In 1998, just one year after it was announced, there were 16 DWDA deaths. In 2013, this number went up by 55 deaths. The highest number of DWDA deaths was in 2012 with 85 deaths.

According to Oregon Public Health Division’s 2013 DWDA Report, there are some cases where though prescriptions were written, patients did not ingest the medication and died from other causes – such as the illnesses they were trying to escape. In 2013, this number rounded out to 28.

Why take it?

Cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and (in Maynard’s case) terminal brain cancer: all of these are reasons that people have chosen to die with the DWDA.

In 2013, the median age of those people dying with dignity was 71; 53.3 percent of these people had “at least a baccalaureate degree.” These are not uneducated, rash decisions. Anyone who chooses to no longer live their life knows exactly what they’re doing. Maynard had a master’s degree in education from the University of California, Irvine and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, according to a CNN article.

I believe those most affected by the DWDA are the family members of those choosing to use it. Although the decision to end one’s life because it is no longer worth living can cause enormous emotional trauma for the patient, the family of the deceased are the people who have to live the rest of their life thinking “what if?”

What if a cure for cancer is discovered? What if my loved one miraculously got better? What if they have been cured?

Although there may be nothing harder than losing a loved one by choice, they must let go. If I were ever suffering the way Maynard was, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same thing. If there was no reason left to fight – if there was no hope – losing control of my body seems unbearable.

Those suffering in a way that healthy people cannot simply comprehend should have this choice if there really are no other options. Who is to say life support must come into play before letting a family member pull the plug? Wanting to have the last memory of your own life be the one you choose and want; that would be pretty special for someone who has been suffering for so long.

I believe the DWDA has to be taken in by a case-by-case basis. Is there imminent death involved? Have options been completely depleted? Is the person choosing to do this cognizant and ready to make that kind of decision? I don’t know what I would do if I were in a situation where death now by choice or death later by fate were my only options. I can only say that the uproar regarding Maynard’s death has definitely started a conversation throughout the nation.

Kelly Iverson is a senior in mass communications.