Dying with dignity: Physician-assisted suicide

Terminally ill Brittany Maynard moved to Portland, Oregon, to take advantage of the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which was established in the 1990s. (Maynard Family | AP)
Terminally ill Brittany Maynard moved to Portland, Oregon, to take advantage of the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which was established in the 1990s. (Maynard Family | AP)

29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, has decided she will end her life Nov, 1. Maynard will take her life through a process known as physician-assisted suicide. The Dying with Dignity Act, which is legal in Oregon, Washington State, Vermont, Montana and New Mexico, allows terminally ill patients to ask their doctor for lethal prescription drugs. Maynard has raised a lot of controversy about her decision to “die with dignity.”

Freshman Zsa Zsa Quach knows the pain of dealing with situations such as Maynard’s. Having a younger brother who is a leukemia survivor and a grandfather diagnosed with colon cancer, Quach understands the mindset that Maynard has developed.

“With Brittany’s case, if she feels content with her life, feeling that she lived her life to the fullest, it’s her choice and I respect that because going through cancer is such a journey. If I was in her shoes, I would think the same way because I would never put anyone who loved me so much through that,” Quach said.

Quach said there’s an aspect many people have overlooked: contentment. When you think about denying these victims the opportunity to die happily, it is completely unethical, and by allowing them to suffer while living, you’re killing them in the process.

In the 2011 Emmy-nominated documentary, “How to Die in Oregon,” I was introduced to a woman by the name Cody Curtis, whose life changed after a perceived stomach ache turned out to be large cancer cells in her liver. After months of suffering, which included being in a coma for 50 days, Curtis made the decision to go through with the lethal prescription. Not everyone agreed with the route Curtis chose. Dr. Katherine Morris, Curtis’ physician, said she was extremely conflicted as she got more attached to   her patient.

“This is a law that supports my value, but I’m going to write a prescription to end someone’s life,” Morris said.

Doctors are not the bad guys in these situations. Derek Humprey, author of the book, “Final Exit,” also lost his first wife to cancer. “The doctor doesn’t kill the                          

patient, the patient kills themselves,” he said. Once the doctors write their approval for the prescription, the power and control is all in the hands of the patient.

“No one is forcing them to take the drug. It serves as an aid, so when things are taking a turn for the worst, the patient has the option to die peacefully,” Humphrey said.

I couldn’t help but think of my own family as I became more acquainted with the topic of physician-assisted suicide. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer run in my blood. Most recently, I’ve had to see my great-aunt Gerald change into a complete stranger. When my mom shows me pictures of my aunt’s bruised face from a bad fall, or during holidays when she doesn’t remember me coming up to hug her, my heart aches. She’s lost control of her life, so I begin to question if the life she currently leads is even worth living any more? I would want someone, like my aunt, to have access to these prescribed lethal drugs. That way, she could make the decision for herself regarding how much longer she wants to suffer.

When looking at this debate, you have to set aside your personal emotions and religious oppositions and begin to look at what these victims and their families have to deal with. I know that when I die I want it to be peaceful.  No struggles, aches or tears. I imagine dying in a serene, dignified manner with my family and friends surrounded around me. Across America, everyone deserves the same opportunity. You have a right to live a happy life, and dying shouldn’t be any different.