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How to Die in Oregon, or Choosing the Least Worst Death

by | 11/05/2014 | 0 comments

The media has been covering the death of Brittany Maynard pretty heavily this week, and it’s resulted in uncomfortable conversations about Death with Dignity all over the Internet.

For whatever reason, People Magazine seems to be the main disseminator of information on this particular story. To me, it feels gross for a number of reasons—namely, that they were likely only interested because Brittany was pretty. Second, and more importantly, as much as they’re separate topics, the public’s understanding of suicide versus Death with Dignity is mostly nonexistent, which means a lot of talks need to be had, and carefully. I don’t trust People to do that (or anything, really) justice.

Obviously, I’m interested in the concept of choice when it comes to one’s own death. I do this work every day. I know it’s scary, though. We’re afraid of death. Thinking about ending our own lives, regardless of the circumstances, isn’t really at the top of anyone’s to-do list. But too often, it keeps us from thinking about important things.

A key question we should consider when thinking of those who die by suicide and those who die with the assistance of a physician is, “How much pain must that person have been in to choose to end their own life?”

It’s a question that far too many of us haven’t taken a moment to stop and really think about. I wanted to share a couple of things that I’ve felt have been really helpful in terms of learning about Death with Dignity, what it feels like to the people involved, and why we should care. And of course, because I’m me, they’re story-based.

The first is a film called How to Die in Oregon, which is easily accessible on Netflix. It gives a good overview on how the law is applied in Oregon, but it also takes you deeply into the lives of some people who chose to go that route. It’s an incredible film (it’s also a tear-jerker). Trailer below.

You may recall that I went to LA for the annual American Association of Suicidology conference in April to speak on a panel about my experiences as an attempt survivor. A woman named Peggy came up to me afterward to strike up a conversation about my portraits (and to ask me to make an impromptu headshot).

Little did I know, Peggy was Margaret Pabst Battin: philosopher, ethicist, and advocate for end-of-life rights. Her husband, Brooke, was paralyzed in a cycling accident and, eventually, chose to end his own life. She recently told their story on the TEDMED stage (that’s what the headshot was for). It’s a love story with what seems like a sad ending.

But is it, really?

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