Rare Disease Report: Brittany Maynard; 1984 – 2014

November 8, 2014

On Saturday, November 1, 2014, 29-year old Brittany Maynard passed away after swallowed a prescription pill that allowed her to end her life on her on terms. Her obituary can be read at

Her physician assisted suicide was done legally as a new resident of Oregon where the state’s Death With Dignity Act  allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose. 
Ms Maynard has publicly proclaimed she would be ending her life this way after being diagnosed with grade IV glioblastoma. At the time of her diagnosis, the doctors gave her approximately 6 months to live and as the cancer progressed, the symptoms would become more severe. She wanted to end her life before the symptoms became to unbearable. General symptoms associated with glioblastoma, a rare brain cancer, include headaches, nausea and vomiting, personality changes, and slowing of cognitive function. Hemiparesis, sensory loss, visual loss, aphasia, and seizures may also occur.  In the past weeks, Ms Maynard complained about her failing health and had actually ticked off the last item on her bucket list (Grand Canyon visit) in preparation for her passing.
When Ms Maynard was first diagnosed with glioblastoma, she was a resident of California, which does not allow terminally-ill patients to take their own life.  After reviewing her options, she and her husband moved to Oregon which is one of five states (including Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico) that authorizes ‘death with dignity’ (doctor assisted termination of life).
Patients who meet certain criteria can request a prescription for lethal medication from a licensed Oregon physician. The physician must be a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) licensed to practice medicine by the Board of Medical Examiners for the State of Oregon. The physician must also be willing to participate in the Act. Physicians are not required to provide prescriptions to patients and participation is voluntary. Some health care systems (for example, a Catholic hospital or the Veterans Administration) have prohibitions against practicing the Act.

We at Rare Disease Report understand that this is a very controversial subject. Many of our readers may have wished Brittany had chosen a path more amicable to increasing our understanding of glioblastoma by entering a clinical trial. However, her choice can increase our understanding of terminal illnesses and how we, as both a society and as individuals, manage them.

Image of the Hippocratic oath courtesy wikimedia commons



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