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Should terminal patients like Brittany Maynard have a right to aid in dying?

When Brittany Maynard chose to end her life at 29, rather than suffer the debilitating effects of terminal brain cancer, she sparked a national debate.

After Maynard made her decision, she and her family moved from California to Oregon–where assisted suicide is legal, in certain cases. That choice, along with Maynard’s aid-in-dying advocacy efforts, revived the conversation about assisted suicide in the U.S.

Two distinctive perspectives have emerged. In an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos and psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, Maynard’s husband Dan Diaz spoke in defense of death with dignity laws. In making the decision to end her life, Diaz said, Maynard was “doing everything that she can to prolong her life. Nobody should have the right to try to extend her dying process, the horrific way that her death would have gone.”

But Dr. Kheriaty sees it differently. He told Ramos and Diaz that he would not be comfortable prescribing deadly medication to any patient–and he suspects other doctors feel the same. “It would be like asking a fireman to burn down a building.” He added that death with dignity laws could lead to more preventable deaths: “This is a message … [that’s] going to be heard by every vulnerable individual who’s tempted to think, I just can’t go on anymore. Someone who is in Robin Williams’s shoes is gonna look at this as the right way out.”

Instead, he recommends palliative care for terminal patients, to help make the dying more comfortable.

But this, says Diaz, is far from the reality of end-of-life care: “At 2:30 in the morning when the physicians are not around–when that patient wakes up, and they’re in pain, and they’re suffering, that’s when I would ask the question, so where is this excellent palliative care system that is able to control a patient’s suffering?”

Now, other patients are fighting the same battle as Maynard. One California woman is suing the state for the “option of aid in dying in California.” Californians may well see assisted suicide laws change in their state in the near future. In January, Senators William Monning and Lois Walk proposed, SB 128 The End of Life Option Act. It could reach the Senate as soon as June.

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