Like many in this country, the medical malpractice lawyers at Cohen and Cohen PC have followed the last days and death of Brittany Maynard. Although Saturday November 1st marked the beginning of the month, it marked the deliberate end of Ms. Maynard’s life. Maynard, 29, committed physician- assisted suicide at her home in Portland, Oregon. Many wonder if the publicity around Maynard’s decision will affect the future of physician-assisted suicide laws in this country, including the medical malpractice lawyers of Cohen and Cohen PC.
Maynard was in the last stages of glioblastoma, a highly aggressive and terminal cancer of the brain. Surgeons had removed the tumor previously but, as was expected, it returned. In the months before her death, Maynard moved from her native California to a yellow house in Oregon, where she could legally end her own life with the aid of a physician. While living out the last of her days, Maynard became an advocate for the “Death with Dignity” movement. She spoke out about her decision with the advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, explaining she would never want a terminally ill person to take his or her life, but that she believed the patient should be allowed to choose the action, rather than be forced to suffer as the body died slowly and painfully. “There’s not a single part of me that wants to die,” Maynard explained. “But I am dying.” Our Washington DC medical malpractice lawyers understand that decisions such as these, and legal interpretations around physician-assisted suicide can be complex.
Maynard decided to forego cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. Such treatments, according to her doctors, could have delayed her death, but only for a while, and not without diminishing her quality of life. Maynard’s intention was, instead, to end her life before it became too painful. Maynard had, a few weeks before her death, considered prolonging her life, claiming that she laughed often and still enjoyed time with her mother, stepfather and husband, Dan Diaz. Maynard and Diaz had been married just over a year. She feared, however, that if she waited too long she would lose the physical and mental capacity to end her life before its becoming unbearable. Thus, as planned, Maynard ingested a fatal combination of barbiturates, prescribed by her doctor. She died surrounded by family.
As of today, only five states permit physician-assisted suicide: Washington, Oregon and Vermont by legislation, and New Mexico and Montana by court decision. The case for assisted suicide is currently being made in New Jersey. If New Jersey decides to legalize assisted suicide, it will become the East Coast’s second state to do so. As for the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, physician-assisted suicide is not, as of yet, legal. Washington DC medical malpractice lawyer Wayne Cohen speculates, “In all likelihood, this is a matter to continue to be decided on a state by state basis.”