9 February 2015
Death With Dignity Act
It seems that Brittany Maynard became a household name overnight. Her story was heartwrenching; a young woman in her late twenties, diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor that had almost completely taken over her brain. Because the tumor was so large and such a rare type, it was inoperable the doctors gave her just months to live, even with treatment. However, the reason that her story spread so quickly was not because of how daunting and heartbreaking it was. The reason that this story swept through the nation so rapidly was because of the action that
Maynard took due to her prognosis. After Brittany Maynard was given such a grim diagnosis and prognosis by her doctors in her home state of California, she and her family moved to Oregon, one of the two states in the United States that has the Death With Dignity Act. It was there that she began her journey as a spokesperson for the Death With Dignity Act, as well as being a recipient of the drug, pentobarbital. This is the prescription medication that is administered to patients who are choosing to use their right to the Death With Dignity Act (Maynard). There are many reasons to why Oregon and Washington State have decided to enact the Death With
Dignity Act. It has been a process years in the making that has taken many turns on it campaign.
The histories of the Death With Dignity Act in both Oregon and Washington State are very similar, making the effects that it has had on both of these states very similar as well. However, there are also many differences between the acts.
The Death With Dignity Act makes Physician Assisted Suicide legal for anyone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has a prognosis of six months or fewer to live.
However, there are many qualifications that a patient must meet before they can receive the prescription drug used for Physician Assisted Suicide. J.M. Dieterle of the Social Science
Research Network outlines these stipulations in his article, “Physician Assisted suicide: A New
Look At The Arguments.” According to this piece, the first qualification is that the patient must meet is the age requirement of 18 or over. Next they must have a physician other than the one who diagnosed them confirm their diagnosis and prognosis. The patient must also request the prescription twice, at least 15 days apart, have written consent, signed in front of two witnesses and agree to have a psychiatric examination if either physician believes their psychiatric ability may be impaired. As for the physician, they must decide if they believe that the patient is capable, inform the patient of all possible alternatives, and request that the patient notify their nextofkin on their decision to request this prescription (Dieterle 128). Research showed no variations in the requirements the states have in order to receive the medication. All of these conditions and requirements are strictly enforced by both Washington and Oregon.
The history of the Death With Dignity Act for both states started with the court cases of
Washington vs. Glucksberg and
Vacco vs. Quill
. In both of these cases, Washington State and
New York upheld their laws that restricted someone from helping another commit suicide by arguing that it was not a right guarded by the Due Process Clause (McGirk). These laws meant that it was illegal to assist someone committing suicide, regardless of whether the person was attempting to end their life because they were in a depressive mental state or because they had been given a fatal diagnosis. The next action that moved these two states closer to making
Physician Assisted Suicide legal, was the
Cruzan vs. Director case. This court case made it legal for “support to be withdrawn from a patient left incompetent by a catastrophic injury.” The court distinguished the
Cruzan case from the