Brittany Maynard ended her life peacefully on November 1 with the aid of prescription drugs obtained from her physician in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal. Maynard was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor earlier this year and was given six months to live, during which time her seizures intensified and she became increasingly debilitated. A beautiful, just-married woman of 29, her situation and her decision to end her life attracted, and continues to attract, significant discussion about a patient's right to die.
The morality of physician-assisted suicide is an issue I leave for physicians, ethicists, clergy, patients and politicians to sort out. Right now the practice is legal in Oregon, Washington state, and Vermont, and is currently being considered by several other states. It is not legal here in Florida, nor is there any legislation pending to make it so.
Wherever you stand on this most sensitive of sensitive issues, Maynard's situation makes one thing clear: Most people want to remain in control of their lives and their deaths. That, of course, is where thoughtful planning can help. As a Florida elder law/estate planning attorney, I help people plan so that their health care decisions can be made by someone they know and trust, consistent with their own values and desires.
Putting your wishes in writing gives you control over your destiny and that means peace of mind. The place to start is with a well-drafted health care power of attorney in which you name the person(s) you want to make your health care decisions if you are unable to make them yourself. That is quite a responsibility to put on someone's shoulders, so you must be sure the person you choose is intellectually and psychologically up to the job -- and willing to do it. Also have a discussion with your health care agent about your core values and preferences for medical treatment; that will help your agent feel more secure if he/she is called on to make the decisions for you. Appoint back-up health agents. From time to time, check to make sure all your agents are still willing and able to serve. I have had people walk into my office with documents that name a long-deceased spouse as agent - and no backup agents! Also think about establishing a living will, a document with provides instructions specifically related to end-of-life care.