Over a dozen states are currently considering bills that would legalize assisted suicide, a practice already legal in four states, including Oregon. Maryland resident O.J. Brigance, a Super Bowl champion, is adamantly opposed to the idea, despite a diagnosis of ALS.
Eight years ago, Brigance was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which causes nervous system degeneration and progressively destroys muscle control.
In spite of his prognosis, the sports champion is against the bill, which he said will “devalue the lives and possible future contributions of Marylanders.”
“I did not create my life, so I have no right to negate my life,” Brigance said in testimony before the Maryland Senate Judiciary Committee. “Since being diagnosed, I have done a greater good for society in eight years, than in my 37 years on earth.”
Brigance now works as a senior advisor for the Baltimore Ravens, the team he won once won the Super Bowl with. After being diagnosed with ALS, he founded the Brigance Brigade Foundation, which provides grants to patients with ALS to help them live higher quality lives.
“Because I decided to live life the best I could, there has been a ripple effect of goodness in the world,” Brigance said.
Mary Ellen Russell of the Maryland Catholic Conference also testified against the bill. “There is no life that we consider not worth living, no person who does not deserve to be valued simply because they are a living human being,” Russell said. “Our concerns about the bill are shared by numerous other groups, including members of the medical community, disability groups, advocates for vulnerable elders and others.”
“We wish also to convey our deep dismay about the message this legislation sends to those who might feel that their illness and the care they require is nothing more than a burden to their families and the rest of society,” Russell added.
John Kelly, New England regional director of Not Dead Yet, expressed deep concern over the growing trend as more states consider bills that would legalize assisted suicide. “Proponents [of assisted suicide] are making it all too clear that disabled people have every reason to fear for our lives,” he wrote in the Oregonian.
The four states that have legalized assisted suicide are Oregon, Montana, Washington, and Vermont. Many more are considering bills that would legalize it, including Alaska and California. Colorado recently voted against the bill, and Montana is considering a law to delegalize assisted suicide.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick, Chair of the House Committee on Health Care, has introduced a bill, H.B. 3337, which would expand Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law.
Currently the law requires a patient be diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die within six months before being able to request a lethal prescription. This bill redefines “terminal diagnosis” and expands the time requirement to one year.
Oregon was the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide and is touted as a model law to other states. However, the assisted suicide law is rife with dangers and flaws.
Oregon’s law requires patients who are thought to be depressed have a psychiatric exam, but only three percent in 2014 were actually seen by a psychiatrist. This low percentage has remained consistent through the years despite the fact that an Oregon study showed that 26 percent of patients seeking physician-assisted suicide are depressed. Depression is the number one factor in people seeking to kill themselves. Clearly Oregon’s law is failing to protect patients who could be treated for clinical depression and possibly miss many treasured times with family and friend.
Some who were first to use Oregon’s new law, as well as Brittany Maynard, used their deaths to promote physician-assisted suicide, and went to the press to “tell all.”
However, other than those highly publicized deaths, very little is known about the other hundreds of assisted deaths. Oregon’s law shrouds all physician-assisted suicides in secrecy. There is no peer or state review to confirm if deaths were carried out according to the law, and after a year all reports by physicians are destroyed. We have a few raw numbers garnered from physicians who self-reported the deaths. There is no way to know if all deaths are reported.
Predicting a patient’s life expectancy is an inexact science even among the most experienced physicians. We all know patients who have outlived their doctor’s prognosis. One patient who received a lethal prescription in 2012 outlived their six-month prognosis until 2014, when they did finally use the drug. Expanding the time frame to one year strains the capabilities of most physicians.
Unless those doctors who write a deadly prescription one year ahead of an expected death are given a crystal ball, more mistakes will be made and deaths will increase dramatically. More patients will be abandoned instead of being cared for and comforted in the hope they may outlive their prognosis or that new treatments–or even a cure–may be discovered.
Expanding the Oregon Death With Dignity Act is bad policy and even worse medicine.
Lizz Lovett could choose to take her own life. As an Oregon resident stricken with advanced stage kidney cancer, Lovett could lawfully utilize Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act to end her life prematurely through euthanasia.
“I think [Stefanick] saw we still lived joyful lives, and that cancer didn’t define who we are,” Lovett said. “He said he was struck by the dramatic juxtaposition between our life – taking each day as a gift for us to give and receive – and Ms. Maynard’s, where she appeared to want control, by taking her own life.”
In the powerful video, Lovett shared why she is choosing to live despite her terminal diagnosis.
“While many of us do not agree on how to think about euthanasia, I do think many of us can still be touched by beauty,” Lovett said. “And from that common experience, I hope we can reconnect how we think about the world and – perhaps – be persuaded to be open in a new way to life.”
Many members of Lovett’s family still hold to the “pro-choice” viewpoint that death by euthanasia is a lawful right. Lovett hopes her story can reach out to them and others faced with this difficult deliberation.
Suffering, Lovett argues, is not the problem.
“I hope people will see there can be great joy and love in suffering, and great joy and love can come from it too,” Lovett said. “The stuff of life that has the most meaning – the opportunities for grace, the moments of littleness, humility and weakness that can be made into something so powerful through faith – are in danger of being snuffed out, removed before they even have a chance to occur.”
Lovett believes true dignity is found in living each and every day with love. Finding strength in her faith, Lovett continues to appreciate the time she has left with her family with new perspective.
“Life, indeed, is short,” she said. “And of course, everyone is going to die. I just have a better idea than most of when that may be. I think it is blessing in some ways to have that clarity as I live life each day.”
Her children – aged 2 to 7 – and her husband, remain consistent blessings. Lovett names Ryan as her “backbone of strength.” And Lovett is grateful for the outpouring of support that friends and community members have showered on her family.
“By ending my life prematurely, I lose the opportunity to love, and to be loved,” Lovett said. “We are all in each other’s lives for a reason. This is our journey, something we do together. When we feel the pressure – whether interiorly or from outsiders, subtly or otherwise – to just end it all because we are inconvenient, nothing could be further from the truth. It is through this suffering that our faith grows, our love grows, and the world is transformed, one relationship at a time.
“I hope people will learn not to confuse an undignified circumstance with a lack of real dignity. I hope people will learn not to confuse pain with suffering. That people will see that what gives our lives greatest meaning is not feeling good, but being good: feeling good is not compatible with suffering, but being good is.
“And since the issue of euthanasia is not going away, I wanted my voice to be heard – to offer a truthful witness to what death with dignity really means.”
Oregon is currently one of only five states allowing euthanasia in certain circumstances. Suffering from terminal brain cancer, Maynard chose to die following a seizure – an occurrence growing increasingly common during the final days of her life.
Beside Brittany throughout her trials and final choice was her husband of two years, Dan Diaz. This week, Diaz opened up about his experiences with Maynard in her final days and the pain he still feels from her loss.
“I have good days and bad days,” Diaz told People Magazine. “But the feeling of loss is always there – particularly in the morning when I first wake up. And at night, when the house is quiet and I’m just there with the dogs. I think about her every day.”
“The seizure that morning was a reminder of what she was risking because what was coming next was losing her eyesight, becoming paralyzed and an inability to speak,” Diaz said. “And then she would essentially be trapped in her own body.”
After a walk with her husband and dog, Maynard took the suicidal medication in the presence of her family members on Nov. 1.
“It truly was the most peaceful experience that you could ever hope for when you talk about a person’s passing,” Diaz said. “I carry [her driver license] with me and any time I open my wallet I see her smiling face.”
Diaz continues to advocate for Death With Dignity legislation, and remains proud of his wife’s courage. While expressing how deeply he misses her, Diaz recognized that it would be selfish for him to want her to stay and prolong her own suffering.
“She was surrounded by the people she loved, and her passing was peaceful,” Diaz said.
Brittany Maynard changed her previous decision to delay and ended her life on Saturday, November 1. Her decision came after a seizure late in October when she decided to take control before her condition worsened.
The same weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio, another young woman coped with the reality of a short time remaining.
19-year-old Lauren Hill of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, loves basketball. She spent high school honing her skills and refining her passion for the sport. She even dreamed of playing in college.
But an inoperable brain tumor cut short all her dreams.
Hill wanted to play just one college game, but she also wanted to make a difference. Xavier University supplied the venue to inspire countless people through a benefit game to raise funds for cancer research.
“This game was amazing,” Hill said.“It was awesome in every way. It’s a dream come true. To play on a college court, to put my foot down on the floor and hear the roar of the crowd — I just love it so much. I love basketball.
“Everything that happened today was amazing. I’m truly happy, it’s a really good day.”
Sunday’s game gave Hill her one chance to play in a college court and saw her team carry the day 66-55. Her inspiring performance brought the sellout crowd of 10,250 to their feet with applause.
Even though Hill is expected to live less than a year, her story is not over yet. Brittany Maynard brought attention to the stories of young men and women facing imminent tragedy and inspired many to make the most of life.