On November 1, twenty-nine-year-old Brittany Maynard, suffering from terminal brain cancer, took her own life under Oregon’s assisted suicide law. California, Maynard’s home state, doesn’t allow doctor-assisted suicide. So she moved to Oregon, where she could legally die on her own terms.
Currently, assisted suicide is unequivocally legal in only three states—Oregon, Washington, and Vermont—where it is allowed in cases of terminal illness in which doctors estimate that the person in question will die of his illness within six months. In Montana and New Mexico, although courts have ruled in favor of physicians assisting in the suicide of terminally ill patients, the legal situation appears unsettled. But even in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, the laws do not fully recognize and protect an individual’s right to take his own life or to contract with a medical professional for assistance in this regard.
Consider the plight of New Jersey resident Christina Symanski a few years ago. As Bob Braun of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger recounts, Symanski was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident in 2005. After years of agonizing physical and emotional struggle, and facing hopeless decades in a state she considered “intolerable,” Symanski chose to end her own life. As Braun notes, Symanski searched for but could not find a legal way to get assistance from a medical professional—not even in Oregon. So, in 2012, she literally starved herself to death through “a slow and torturous . . . agony that lasted two months.” In a widely viewed final statement on her blog—written before her death but published afterward—Symanski explained how and why she came to her decision. Her post, titled “Quality vs. Quantity,” closed as follows: . . .