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Cancer Patient Moves to Ore., Plans Assisted Suicide

By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 15, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Cancer patient Brittany Maynard isn't taking her terminal cancer diagnosis lying down. She moved to Oregon and is planning her assisted suicide.

Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer nine months ago, but she didn't want to "die a horrendous death," reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Instead of languishing in front of her loved ones while the cancer spread, Maynard moved from California to Oregon, where she plans to take advantage of the state's "Death with Dignity" law.

States That Allow Access to Death Drug

As of this writing, there is no federally protected right to assisted suicide. The Supreme Court was given the opportunity to determine if the U.S. Constitution gives a person the right to physician assisted suicide, but in both Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill, the High Court sided with the government's interest in preserving life.

This doesn't mean that patients cannot obtain assisted suicide in the United States. The law regarding it, however, has been left to each state. The Chronicle reports there are currently five states that allow access to the kinds of lethal drugs used in assisted suicide: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, and New Mexico. Some states have legislated this issue, while states like New Mexico have carved a legal path to "aid in dying" through the state courts.

Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, enacted in 1997, allows terminally ill patients to self-administer lethal medications which have been prescribed by a doctor for the purpose of ending their lives. The law protects doctors and hospitals from civil and criminal liability if the proper procedures are followed, and it may legally allow Maynard to end her life.

Requirements Under Death With Dignity Act

Although Maynard may have moved to a state that will allow her to administer her own death via medication, it won't be as simple as just asking a doctor for a prescription. Under the Act, Maynard must, among other requirements:

  • Be a resident of Oregon;
  • Be capable to voluntarily sign this form;
  • Make her written request for medication in the presence of two witnesses (one of which is not a relative, a health care worker at the facility, or entitled to a portion of her estate);
  • Be diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months; and
  • Make two separate oral requests to her physician for the drugs, separated by at least 15 days.

It's also possible that Maynard will have to wait up to 48 hours after signing her assisted suicide form to receive her lethal medication. The Chronicle reports the terminally ill woman is planning to die November 1, after her husband's birthday.

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