Brittany Maynard, an Oregon woman with terminal brain cancer, ended her life over the weekend. The 29-year old had become the face of the controversial right-to-die movement. She took advantage of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, which legally allows a doctor to prescribe a fatal dose of barbiturates. However that's only legal in five states and Pennsylvania is not one of them.
Dr. Joan Harrold has been running a hospice in Lancaster for nearly two decades and said Maynard learned about her condition, looked at treatments and talked with her family before deciding to end her life. "Whether we agree or disagree with the final decision that she made, the example that she set in making that decision is one that everyone should follow," said Harrold who is the Medical Director of the Hospice & Community Care facility in Lancaster.
However you can't legally follow Maynard's lead here in the Commonwealth. "Pennsylvania does not have any law on the books right now that permits physician assisted suicide, which is the usual term for dying with dignity," said Harrold. However you do have some power towards the end, especially if you're suffering from a terminal illness and your condition worsens. "If that's somebody who does not want artificial nutritional hydration, does not want attempts at resuscitation, does not want to be on a ventilator they can tell someone that and if their condition changes those things don't have to be done," said Harrold.
However you have to agree on that with your family before you lose the ability to communicate. "It can be too late to have a conversation if someone is already unable to explain what is important to them," said Harrold. She went on to say that any responsible adult should create a living will that addresses what should happen if they become terminally ill or suffer a severely debilitating injury. If you can't agree with your family on a course of action, then you can let your doctor honor your wishes by granting him healthcare power of attorney.