For me, one of the most powerful and informative presentations in my entire high school career (so far. I have a few months left) was junior year during our Literary Journalism Presentations. Each student in the Junior class was required to write a 8-12 page article about something local that matters to them. One student in the class wrote about the Death with Dignity Law passed in Oregon 17 years ago. His presentation, centered around the story of one of his own family members that chose to exercise their right to Death with Dignity, was one of the few that challenged my ideas about more than one subject, namely, the American media and state governments.
I am reminded of this presentation given the recent news coverage of a woman, Brittany Maynard, who decided to move to Oregon in order to exercise her Death with Dignity right. She has dominated news in Oregon, and sparked a nationwide debate about adopting Death with Dignity laws thanks to her heartfelt video posted on YouTube.
In my peer’s presentation, the piece of information that I found most important has already probably made you a little confused. “Exercise their right to death with dignity”? You could have just said “commit suicide” or “kill themselves.” Not exactly. The student (I am not using his name for privacy reasons) made sure to reiterate time and time again an important fact about language. There are very specific terms NOT used with the Death with Dignity law, specifically, “euthanasia”, “suicide”, and “assisted suicide”. Using these terms gives people a perception of the law in a different way than those who supported it intended. According to the Death with Dignity National Center,
“Because the person is in the process of dying and seeking the option to hasten an already inevitable and imminent death, the request to hasten a death isn’t equated with suicide. None of the moral, existential, or religious connotations of suicide apply when the patient’s primary objective is not to end an otherwise open-ended span of life, but to find dignity in an already impending exit from this world. They’re participating in an act to shorten the agony of their final hours, not killing themselves. Cancer (or another underlying condition) is killing them.”
Unfortunately, I noticed a trend with the continued media coverage of her death. Here is a quick Google News search I did of Brittany Maynard’s name:
Although a few of these articles are directly quoting the Vatican, the headlines should not be so inherently biased. The Death with Dignity National Center clearly states the terms that should and should not be used. I find it odd that such a large portion of the American media either didn’t do the research or simply didn’t care enough to change the wording. In my opinion, these news outlets should use the terminology that the organization would prefer.
In politics, language means a lot. The difference between passing and not passing a law can be as easy as one wrong word that gives the wrong connotation to a majority of the population. The use of the term “suicide” puts forward ideas about depression and sorrow, whereas the phrase “exercise their right to Death with Dignity” implies a much more peaceful death.
I hope we can begin to see more of these laws in other states. Brittany Maynard’s story seemed, at least to me, to spread so quickly due to the fact that she needed to completely uproot her life in order to die how she wanted. That seems ridiculous to me and I am still surprised more states do not have these kind of laws in place. In the coming months, we will hopefully begin to see some change in the national perception of these laws thanks to Maynard and her story.
If you would like to read the article written by my friend about his experiences with the Death with Dignity law, It is posted here.
If you would like to donate to the Brittany Maynard Fund, created to help pass Death with Dignity laws in other states, Follow this Link.