Splashed around the web is the story of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard who recently discovered she has an incurable cancerous brain tumor. There are apparently some treatment options, but based on her understanding of those options, they are likely to destroy any quality of life she might otherwise have.

She took the extraordinary step of moving from the San Francisco Bay area to the State of Oregon where it is legal for physicians to prescribe medications that will end a patient’s life. She has gone through the steps and has the medications she needs to reach her goal.  She says she plans to end her life around November 1, shortly after her husband’s birthday.

Culture and Medicine

There has been considerable discussion in the media about death and dying issues over the past few months including a number of stories about Brits traveling to one of several Scandinavian countries where assisted suicide or euthanasia is allowed. It is likely that we will see this trend continue in the western world.

Culturally and medically we see little value in suffering and pain and truly one of the horrors of modern medicine has been to allow some individuals to live longer than before and in terrible discomfort. In truth sometimes death is a mercy.

I will confess that for me personally it is hard to conceive of taking this extraordinary step because I see life as precious and, philosophically, I absolutely believe we can create quality of life for almost everyone until the day they pass. That being said, I want to be very careful about passing judgment because I am not walking in her shoes, or the shoes of her husband and family.

Implications for Senior Living

Skilled nursing communities deal with death frequently. More and more, assisted living communities work closely with hospice companies to allow residents to pass comfortably in their own apartment. These are mostly situations where nature is allowed to take its normal course.

As the discourse about dying with dignity continues to build, it is likely that senior living communities will be faced with the prospect of being asked for information about assisted suicide, to offer opinions about assisted suicide, and perhaps to even help with the process.

I find myself wondering what your thoughts are . . . .

  • How do communities deal with staff moral obligations to help someone take their own life?
  • Would you provide direction, advice and or resources to help someone end their life on their terms?
  • What kind of impact do you think this would have on residents and team members?

I am far from having any answers on this issue and would love to hear your thoughts.

Steve Moran