She moved away to Oregon to pass away in a little yellow house she picked out in the beautiful city of Portland.
On New Years Day, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with brain cancer. With an untreatable illness Brittany made it her mission to live life to the fullest, and when the time came for her to pass away she wanted to do so with dignity. She moved to Oregon, where she was given a lethal dose of drugs prescribed by a doctor.
Now Brittany is gone, the debate she left behind may change the way we think about euthanasia.
Euthanasia is prohibited in all states under Australian law. The Euthanasia Laws Act prohibits the Northern Territory, ACT and Norfolk Island from introducing acts legalising euthanasia. Yet a national public opinion poll conducted by Newspoll for YourLastRight.com in 2012 found a majority of the 2521 people interviewed across all states supported reform of euthanasia laws.
In considering voluntary euthanasia, if a hopelessly ill patient experiencing unbelievable suffering, with absolutely no chance of recovery, asks for a lethal dose, should a doctor be allowed to provide it?
In their responses 82.5 per cent said yes, with the minority of 12.7 per cent saying no. 3.8 per cent weren’t sure about there answer and 1 per cent refused to answer. These findings are similar to previous Newspoll results. In 2007, 79.7 per cent agreed with providing a lethal dose of drugs to a terminally ill patient and in 2009 they found that 84.9 per cent said agreed.
These results are similar to other research by the Australia Institute in 2010, which surveyed 1294 Australians. They asked: “This question is about voluntary euthanasia. If someone with a terminal illness who is experiencing unbelievable suffering asks to die, should a doctor be allowed to assist them to die?”
An overwhelming 75 per cent said yes, just 13 per cent said no, and 12 per cent were undecided. The amount of people who opposed the act was nearly identical to the 2012 Newspoll survey.
Euthanasia raises serious problems for those whose scriptures say do not kill. Of those interviewed by Australia Institute, the majority of support appeared among Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist respondents. Despite the number of religious respondents who supported the idea, those opposed to reform of euthanasia laws were nearly seven times more likely to have a religion than not.
After the introduction of laws supporting euthanasia in places like the Netherlands, issues arose surrounding the increase of forced euthanasia without consent. These issues have been disproven, and incidences of non-voluntary euthanasia has not increased since its legalisation in the Netherlands and the rate has dropped, from 0.8 per cent in 1990 to 0.2 per cent in 2010*.
In Belgium the rate has dropped from 3.2 per cent in 1998 to 1.8 per cent in 2007.**
There are many organisations in support of the legalisation of euthanasia in Australia, such as SAVES. “The primary aim of SAVES is to legalise voluntary euthanasia,” said Frances Coombe, SAVES President. “We think the word voluntary is important in the debate as it emphasises that the euthanasia is the patient’s decision, not a decision by a third party.”
Organisations like HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide disagree, saying there are many fears surrounding the legalisation of euthanasia. “No amount of safeguards can ever make such legislation either safe from risk of abuse or safe from incremental extension to persons or situations outside the originally intended parameters,” said Paul Russell, director of HOPE. “At risk are vulnerable people who may be coerced towards requesting euthanasia.”
Mr Russell thinks well-known cases like Brittany Maynard’s public death definitely changes the debate on euthanasia worldwide.
“I think it has done significant harm. Ms Maynard has been called heroic and has been lauded for what she has done. However, what are people suffering the same or similar conditions now supposed to think?” asked Mr Russell. “The corollary is that, because Maynard was supposedly brave that they should think likewise or be branded a coward.”
A majority of Australians disagree with Mr Russell’s opinion on the matter though. The question is what can supporters do to help legalise euthanasia?
“The public can help achieve legalisation by visiting their State Member of Parliament, or writing, emailing or phoning them & asking them to support VE Bills in Parliament,” said Ms Coombe.
“The public can also join SAVES to increase the power of our representation in Parliament. They can also ask their friends & family to help in these ways.” – Alana Scott
Top photo from reway2007’s Flickr photostream.
* (1) van der Heide A, Onwuteaka–Philipsen BD, Rurup ML, et al. End-of-life practices in the Netherlands under the Euthanasia Act. N Engl J Med. 2007; 356:1957–65. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa071143.
** (2) Chambaere, K., Bilsen, J., Cohen, J., Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B.D., Mortier, F.& Deliens, L. 2010, Physician-assisted death under the euthanasia law in Belgium: a population-based study, Canadian Medical Association Journal, May 17, pp. 1-6.