Disability voices remain prominent in Brittany Maynard debate

headshot of Brittany Maynard smiling
Brittany Maynard

Activists from Not Yet Dead and ADAPT protested in Boulder, Colorado on October 26, in response to a visit by Compassion and Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, who was giving a presentation in favor of expanding physician-assisted suicide laws.

“The legalization of assisted suicide puts me and others with disabilities at risk,” said Anita Cameron, one of the organizers of the protest, in a news release from Not Dead Yet. “Due to our flawed health care system, it costs much less to kill me than to care for me. I’m at higher risk of abuse and coercion, so my ‘right’ to die evolves into my duty to die.”

Compassion and Choices recently produced a video telling the story of Brittany Maynard, which has been seen on Youtube nearly 10 million times since October 6.

In January 2014, Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Since physician-assisted suicide is illegal in her home-state of California, Maynard moved to Oregon, where physicians can prescribe lethal prescriptions to competent, terminally ill patients, allowing them to end their life. In the video, Maynard described her reasons why she intended to go through on her decision to end her life. She died November 1 at her home in Portland.

Oregon and other states with Death with Dignity laws include a variety of safeguards to prevent abuse, including a 15-day waiting period and the opinion of two physicians on the question of whether the patient is terminally ill, normally defined as having less than six months to live.

Many disability advocacy groups have long opposed Death with Dignity laws, on the grounds that the safeguards do not prevent against abuse, and devalue the lives of people with disabilities.

“Disability advocates are deeply sympathetic to Brittany Maynard, and all people suffering a terminal, serious or chronic illness,” Not Dead Yet, Second Thoughts and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund said in a news release responding to the Brittany Maynard video on October 9. “Legalization of assisted suicide often looks acceptable when the focus is solely on an individual.

“However, not every terminal prognosis is correct, not everyone’s doctors know how to deliver expert palliative care, and not everyone has a loving husband and family. A closer examination of the issue reveals the immense harm legalization of assisted suicide poses to vulnerable people as well as society as a whole.”