shutterstock_125077214Several months back, a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Maynard chose to end her life through physician assisted suicide. Before she died early in November 2014, she wrote a column for CNN to explain her difficult and controversial decision. Just a year after she had been married in 2012, Maynard was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and was given a prognosis of 6 months or less to live. Having learned her treatment options (and the physical, emotional, and psychological suffering that would go with it), she soon decided that death with dignity was her best option. Maynard moved to Oregon with her family from California, because it is one of only 5 states where physician assisted suicide is authorized in America.

Physician assisted suicide, which is more popularly referred to as death with dignity or end-of-life choice, is a medical option available for terminally ill and mentally sound individuals that have been given a fatal prognosis by their physicians. When a patient opts for an end-of-life choice, he or she will be prescribed a lethal dose medication that they can take on their own or in the presence of their physician—depending on state laws.  Oregon is the first state to have legalized it in 1997 through their Death with Dignity Act. There, a patient opting end-of-life will have to meet eligibility requirements before they can be prescribed with medication that they have to self-administer. Similar legislations have been put into effect in Washington and Vermont in 2009 and 2013 respectively.  Death with dignity is legal in Montana and New Mexico through court decision, but full-reaching laws are yet to be passed. Several other states currently have death with dignity bills pending in their legislative body, among them are Maynard’s home state California. In plenty of these places, death with dignity legislation remains a subject of a very heated debate.

Advocates of death with dignity say that laws like the ones in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont help patients to take control of their dire situations and die without having to experience having their quality of life be degraded by their illness. They also say that giving a terminal patient the option to end their life saves their family from the pain of having to watch their loved ones suffer and fade away.  On the other side of the debate, opponents argue that death with dignity go against the moral tradition of certain religious and spiritual beliefs. Aside from religious concerns, end-of-life opponents also express concern that physician assisted suicide could be sought by patients who are mentally ill. However, the lawmakers that have proposed death with dignity laws in their states argue that their legislations will have room for stringent criteria and examination to prevent such scenarios from happening.