After being diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour Brittany Maynard was given just 6 months to live by doctors in January 2014. However, on the 6th October – 4 months on from doctors’ prognosis – she released a harrowing YouTube video explaining that enough was enough and that she will be using an assisted suicide programme in Oregon on 1st November. Since then she has chosen to live past this date taking each day as it comes but has sparked a debate that continues to rumble on.
Megan Critchley and Emili Peake explore the medical, psychological and moral arguments surrounding the euthanasia debate.
By Megan Critchley
Everyone deserves the right to die. We have the right to live, so technically we have the right to die, because dying is such a big part of living. If we wanted to we could, we could end our lives. The Suicide Act of 1961 has allowed the legalisation of people to be able kill themselves without punishment.
However what if you cannot take your own life? What happens if you have little or no control over your body, where you could not do simple activities and needed support constantly? What happens if you are in a vegetative state, where you exist but you are trapped in your body?
For them end their lives they would need someone to do it for them, someone to give them a lethal injection, or dose and in this country assisted suicide is illegal.
I do not agree that this is right, as I have previously stated, we have a right to death just as we have a right to life. We need to make our own decisions about our lives.
On 1st November, a woman has decided that this would be her death date. She decided that she wanted to die with dignity instead of letting her illness, a stage 4 glioblastoma that is a malignant brain tumour, end her life.
To do this she has had to move to Oregon, which from 1997 has had an act called Dignity in Death which allows a person to get a lethal dosage of prescription drugs with intent to end their life.
The reasons for death are not the same as suicide; her reasons are because she does not want to die in a terrible way. The brain tumour that this young lady, Brittany Maynard, has is going to slowly kill her, causing her pain and making her unable to do normal activities.
Her death will be with dignity as she is not killing herself because she cannot cope no more, she wants to live but just does not want a death without dignity, full of suffering, heartache and pain.
I think that in life you should have a choice, and I think we should not be afraid of death. In the United Kingdom the topic of euthanasia has been debated endlessly, we have seen soaps such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale trying to inform us on the facts, but still the government has not changed their minds or finalised a policy on the subject.
With Brittany’s story, finally there is some media coverage. Hopefully people will be more informed about euthanasia and understand the decision that people face and why they have decided to make that decision.
I’m not proposing that one day a euthanasia clinic just pops up and is open for business. There needs to be structure and planning which needs to start now as this will not happen overnight.
There needs to be the correct policies in place. We cannot bring this into the United Kingdom without policies that protect people, especially vulnerable people. If we started to make plans now, then in the near future we can start providing this for the people that need it.
This service would need a professional body behind it, to give guidance and make sure that it doesn’t become corrupt. It should only be used in the extreme cases and it should be monitored so it can’t be used out of convenience to get rid of an old grandma that has a very big life insurance policy.
A full on assessment should be taken of the situation, investigating the evidence and making sure that the decision is not out of convenience, i.e. to gain a pay-out for life insurance, or because they do not want to pay for the care home.
The service would provide a safe environment so that you could be with your loved ones with no chance of prosecution for assisting them in their death. Thus providing people with the freedom to make their own decision and not feel they are forcing family members into something that they may get prosecuted for.
Sir Patrick Stewart, quoted on the dignity in dying website as saying, “We have no control over how we arrive in the world, but at the end of life we should have legal control over how we leave it,” and I think he is so right.
The government need to wake up and realise that they are the ones who are halting our freedom, our free will. They need to act now, to save the people from heartache, painful decisions and unfair prosecutions.
By Emili Peake
My stance in life has always been Pro-Choice, so naturally it would be right to assume that I am pro-euthanasia on the basis that the individual has the right to choose if they live or die. However it is for that exact reason that I find myself writing the against stance in this argument.
There are a number of things that need to be considered in this debate that the medical and legal profession need to look at to make the decision on the current laws in place. I’m not too sure I’m going to be a favourite of anyone at this point in time but here me out.
The first thing to consider is when is the right time to die? When someone feels the need to end their life it is because their quality of life is too poor to live with. You then need to ask the question as to what constitutes poor quality of life.
This in itself is a very subjective question. What may be poor quality to me is not the same as what is poor quality to you. In her YouTube video Maynard reasons “My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that’s out of my control. I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”
This is a different definition of quality of life than given by DJ, a former rugby player. DJ was paralysed from the neck down. However, he was still fully conscious and would have potentially lived into old age. DJ felt that his quality of life was too poor for himself and used the assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.
So that’s two different people with different opinions on quality of life able to make the choice about when it was too poor.
But what happens if you are unable to make that choice for yourself? Perhaps a child is born with a paralysing illness. I don’t believe that you could deem that child to been able to define their own quality of life as there may be no comparison.
You could argue that if the child has never known any other form of life then they may be happy with their quality of life (unlike DJ who was unable to adapt to the change). Maynard was able to communicate to her relatives and medical staff.
However, what about someone who is suddenly unable to communicate their wishes, for example, someone paralysed in a car crash. Until they were able to communicate this choice with you it is not fully their choice. You may believe that if someone cannot communicate their desire to die to you, then they must want to – but that is your belief system, not necessarily theirs.
Another point I’d like to make is that people change their minds, or, as it’s known in the psychological field as response shift. When people are at the end of their life stage they set boundaries of how long they are willing to be alive for, whether this is a hypothetical situation or a physical plan. However, a response shift occurs when that person shifts the boundaries.
This is what has happened to Brittany Murphy. She recently decided that it was not the right time to die and that she would like more time with her friends and family. Which is perfectly acceptable as it’s her choice. However – and yes I’m going to bring this back up again – what if she was not able to make that choice? What would happen if someone signs a legal document to say “When I am unable to communicate I would like to be euthanised” and then when that occurs they change their mind?
A person has the right to change their mind in a situation like this, but surely if they are unable to communicate this response shift to the doctors then it is no longer their choice to die.
My last point is on the stability of a person, and again their choice in the matter. If euthanasia was legal in the UK who would decide if a person who is deemed as ‘mentally unstable’ has a poor quality of life and should therefore be allowed to die?
All of these questions and uncertainty leads me to feel that euthanasia in the UK should stay illegal. This is based on people’s own choices and the blurred lines as to when they are able to make these choices. If someone is unable to make, or unable to communicate their choice to live and are then euthanised, then simply this person has been killed against their own free will.