December 3, 2023

OPINION: Britanny’s sudden change of heart

Did Brittany Maynard die freely and without coercion of any kind?

Did Brittany Maynard die freely and without coercion of any kind? This is the question that must be asked after this attractive 29-year-old woman with a brain tumour announced earlier in the week that she would probably postpone the assisted suicide she had planned for Saturday, November 1.

“I still feel good enough, and I still have enough joy — and I still laugh and smile with my friends and my family enough — that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now,” she said in a YouTube video.

Sometime, yes, but not as scheduled.

Early in October Brittany had appeared in a YouTube video in which she announced that she would take advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. She would end her life with a lethal dose of barbiturates which had been prescribed by her doctor. It was a stunning piece of cinematography and in the last month more than 10 million people have viewed it.

Her last-minute decision to postpone her death must have been a bitter pill for Compassion & Choices, America’s best-known assisted suicide lobby group. It had had used Brittany as a poster girl in its campaign for legalisation.

The superbly crafted video which launched “the Brittany Maynard Fund” was directed by Dustin Hoffman’s daughter Allie, a well-known Hollywood figure who runs a New York public relations firm. She put together a multi-platform media campaign called Twenty Nine Years. A professional story-telling consultant was employed to create the video. The celebrity magazines, the glossy women’s magazines and the major newspapers were provided with photos and interviews. She was interviewed on national television. C&C had a lot riding on the Brittany Maynard story.

Many of C&C’s directors and advisors are well-known Americans, including Ram Dass, a drug-tripping Harvard psychology professor turned spiritual guru; Olympia Dukakis, the Oscar-winning actress; and Judith Krantz, the romance novelist.

But they are nearly all in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Here was a winsome and articulate woman in her 20s, a woman who had attracted international media attention by setting a firm date for her assisted suicide, a woman who was a shining icon of everything they were fighting for.

And then she told the whole world that she had stepped back from the cliff’s edge. Even the timing was terrible from a public relations point of view. After all, in less than three weeks she would celebrate her 30th birthday. Her media value would depreciate overnight.

And then, quite unexpectedly, came good news, a C&C Facebook post on Monday: “We’re sad to announce the passing of a dear and wonderful woman, Brittany Maynard. She passed peacefully in her bed surrounded by close family and loved ones.” She had died on Saturday, on schedule.

This could be the opening for a Kay Scarpetta novel. Woman says she will die; woman says she won’t die; woman dies.

How can anyone now be sure that Brittany died freely? What was going on behind the scenes? Did she die surrounded by friends who were sobbing or by friends looking at their watches? How can anyone be sure that intense moral pressure was not placed on Brittany not to break her word and not to disappoint those wonderful people who had made her famous?

We can be reasonably confident that everything about Brittany’s death was aboveboard. C&C plays by the book, unlike some other assisted suicide groups in the US.

But one of the problems with assisted suicide is that the principal witness is no longer with us. We can be reasonably confident — but we can never be certain.
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