What Brittany Maynard's Death Might Mean For The Right-To-Die Movement

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Brittany Maynard ended her life this weekend. The 29-year-old publicly announced that she had moved to Oregon after being diagnosed with brain cancer this spring, so she could take advantage of the state's Death with Dignity law.

Oregon is one of three states that allows doctors to prescribe medications to help terminally ill patients end their lives. Seven states currently have Death with Dignity legislation pending.

"Brittany got younger people to pay attention; social media shows that they were paying attention."

Art Caplan, bioethicist

“She changed the optics, the way the debate is seen." Art Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University, told Here & Now's Robin Young. "This issue—it’s one that captures the attention of the middle aged and the elderly, they’re the ones who pay attention to this. Brittany got younger people to pay attention; social media shows that they were paying attention. So I think her legacy may be bringing in a new audience.”

The critics in this debate point to Europe where assisted suicide has lead to "slippery slopes," where some individuals who were not terminally ill received assistance in their own death.

Caplan said while those cases are unfortunate, he cites stringent requirements for assisted suicide here in the U.S. “We have 17 years of experience in Oregon and probably 10 in Washington state. In those states, very few people ask for the pills. A third of them who ask don’t take them and there’s been no slippage.” said Caplan.

Caplan noted that Brittany's legacy will influence the right-to-die debate by widening the scope of awareness.

“She will have a legacy of bringing a new and vocal group into the debate,” Caplan said. “Assisted suicide or assistance in dying should always be last resort but I still think we’re going to see some change, some more states are going to come online I suspect.”


This segment aired on November 3, 2014.


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