Dying in Oregon: A critical look at death with dignity

Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old schoolteacher with grade 4 glioblastoma, became a media sensation in 2014 when she announced in a YouTube video her decision to utilize Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. A People story announcing Maynard’s death drew more than 16 million unique visitors and became the most-read web-based story in the history of Time Inc. publications.

Today Maynard’s case is widely touted by advocates of physician-assisted suicide, or PAS. The New Yorker called her the “poster child for assisted death.” Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, called her “the new face of the movement to give dying patients the choice to end their lives faster and more humanely.” Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and Choices, credits the recent passage of California’s Death with Dignity Act to the momentum that Maynard created. Since she ended her life on November 1, 2014, more than half of U.S. state legislatures have introduced PAS bills. Brittany Maynard thrust PAS into public consciousness.

“The Death with Dignity movement has been waiting years for someone like Maynard,” said Time writer Josh Sanburn. Young, educated, articulate, attractive, compassionate, world-traveling, family-oriented, and dog-loving, Maynard remains a compelling figure for popular media. She attracts the attention of young, healthy adults who identify with her and are pushing PAS into the foreground.