Brittany’s Decision is Hers Alone

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In recent days, there has been a fair amount of confusion around Brittany Maynard’s statement that she might not hasten her death tomorrow as she mentioned in a video in early October. In her latest public statement, she expressed what many other Oregonians who grappled with whether or when to ingest the medication when she stated, “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.”

For 12 years, I was executive director of Compassion & Choices of Oregon; an organization dedicated to providing nonjudgmental information on end-of-life options. I worked with terminally ill people all over Oregon to help them navigate the request process for the medication allowed under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.

One of the main questions I was asked was “when will I know it is the time for me to take the medication?” My response was always that I couldn’t answer that question for them, but based upon my experience, people know when it’s time, when they’ve detached from the day-to-day world, reached a point where their pain and suffering has robbed them of the quality of life they find essential, and they only want to be with the people they love. Typically, when people decide to take the lethal dose of medication, they and their families are expressing their love for each other and saying their goodbyes. It’s a very emotional time, but one where the love of family is the strongest and the most tender I’ve ever had the honor of observing.

Some who’ve watched Brittany’s latest video have asked if she’s changing her mind, and I’d counter no, though some people take it differently. If she does decide the time is not right, that’s fine; that’s the Death with Dignity Act working as intended. I’m sure she’s getting comfort simply knowing she has this option available to her if she needs it.

We all want people to live as long as possible with the quality of life that’s acceptable to them. In Brittany’s case I understand she’s planning to have family and friends present, including a physician. If she decides to change the date on which she plans to take the medication or even if she decides not to take it I am certain just having the medication has given her great comfort and peace of mind.

Her decision to speak publicly about requesting the prescribed medication allowed under Oregon’s law has had an impact across the country. People throughout the nation, at least the feedback I’m receiving, are talking about the end-of-life; they’re talking about how they expect to die if they get a terminal diagnosis. They’re wondering if they’d choose this option.

These are healthy and helpful conversations for all Americans to have. Most people want this option available even though they might not necessarily choose it for themselves. Simply having the option available is what gives people comfort and it’s the same for Brittany.

She’s done a tremendous job and shown great bravery in coming forward like she has to further the Death with Dignity cause. All of us at the Death with Dignity National Center are grateful for helping so many Americans learn why all states need these laws.

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