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Death With Dignity: Ethical Dilemma

The case of Brittany Maynard is one of the most prominent public health activism examples that are related to assisted death. This female had an aggressive form of brain cancer, and doctors anticipated that she would live for about six months. To preserve her control over her body and life, Maynard decided to move to Oregon, the state that authorized the Death with Dignity Act compared to her state of California (Compassion Choices, 2015). On the one hand, Maynard had the right of freedom and autonomy to end her life and avoid pain and suffering. On the other hand, the ethical concerns about the social role of care providers, the principle of accountability, and their relationships with patients.

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In the video, Brittany Maynard refers to basic human rights, such as the right to a quality life, freedom of suffering, as well as freedom from state interference in these rights. Hedberg and New (2017) state that patients who choose aided death note the loss of independence and concerns about the quality of their lives as the key factors to avoid prolonging their existence in agony. In addition, the patient’s family and friends can benefit from the assisted death of their beloved one since he or she can pass peacefully at home, surrounded by them.

The other side of this dilemma is related to the principle of autonomy that is expected to be followed by care providers. In this case, they are to take responsibility for helping a patient to die, which also contradicts the principle of non-maleficence (Butts & Rich, 2020). However, Hedberg and New (2017) report that Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act implies that no physician can be enrolled in this process without his or her consent. The fact that the rate of terminally-ill patients who choose aided death remains similar across the years shows that death with dignity does not impact the overall number of suicides (Hedberg & New, 2017).


Butts, J. B., & Rich, K. L. (2020). Nursing ethics (5th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Compassion Choices. (2015). Brittany Maynard legislative testimony [Video]. YouTube.

Hedberg, K., & New, C. (2017). Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act: 20 years of experience to inform the debate. Annals of Internal Medicine, 167(8), 579-583.

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