Who Has The Right To Die?

Since 29-year-old terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard came forward publicly last October with her plan to exercise Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, the end-of-life rights movement has gathered momentum. Faced with an agonizing final few months of treatment before she would inevitably die — or a painless death at the time of her choosing —  Maynard opted for the latter. To access this option, however, she was forced to move from her home state of California to Oregon, one of only five states in the U.S. where obtaining lethal medication for the purpose of ending one's life is legal (the others are Montana, Washington, New Mexico, and Vermont). Over the three months since  Maynard’s death, advocates of the right to die — including, notably, the organization Compassion & Choices, which partnered with Maynard in her campaign to share her story — have propelled significant legislative developments. Shortly after Maynard’s death, the New Jersey Assembly passed the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which would allow New Jersey residents with less than six months to live to obtain lethal medication to self-administer at will. The bill, which passed 41-31 (the minimum required) was sent to the New Jersey Senate, which hasn't yet voted on it — though Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto the bill if it passes. Meanwhile, in California, lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 128 on January 21, with the public backing of Maynard's widower Dan Diaz and her mother, Debbie Ziegler. "This is not the first time lawmakers in California and other states have considered legislation to follow Oregon’s lead and grant terminally ill, mentally competent adults the option to request aid-in-dying medication from their physicians," wrote Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, in TIME magazine. "But since  Maynard’s death, nationwide demand for similar state laws has skyrocketed."  This week, we learned that the judiciary committee of Connecticut's General Assembly's will be taking a close look at the aid-in-dying legislation Bill 668; Colorado lawmakers have also just announced plans to debate a death-with-dignity bill. Compassion & Choices reports that lawmakers have either introduced aid-in-dying legislation or have pledged to do so in Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.  Aid-in-dying rights are not without detractors, and those critics aren't necessarily motivated by a religious belief in the sanctity of all life. They point out that in cases where it is less expensive and less time-consuming to encourage patients to die than to continue treatment, physicians might coerce patients — especially the disadvantaged — to die before they are ready. They also fear that the option of death with dignity could open the door to the "elimination" of mentally disabled patients who don't have the capacity to advocate for themselves. Whatever your stance, it's clear that the debate — whether held in statehouses or dinner tables — is not going away.