Brittany Maynard’s death similar to 1997 Richmond woman’s assisted suicide

Posted at 12:45 AM, Nov 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-04 00:45:30-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Just a few weeks shy of her 30th birthday, Brittany Maynard ended her life by taking a deadly dose of drugs prescribed by her doctor.  The young newlywed, who was suffering the effects of terminal brain cancer, said she wanted a say in how her life would end, so she moved from her home in California to Oregon.  Oregon is one of four states that allows doctor assisted suicides.

In an interview with CBS just prior to her death, Maynard talked about the tough decision to die on her own terms.

“I think until anyone has walked a mile in my shoes and knows what they’re facing and has felt, like, just bone splitting headaches that I get sometimes, or the seizures, or the inability to speak, or the moments where I’m looking at my husband’s face and I can’t think of his name.”

Brittany’s story is similar to that of a South Richmond woman who took her own life in 1997.

Helen Livengood, age 59,  suffered from chronic rheumatoid arthritis  when she died in a Michigan hotel room. Livengood’s husband told the Richmond Times Dispatch in ’97 that his wife was a remarkable Christian woman who was in the final stages of her disease and could barely walk or swallow.

While Livengood’s family does not wish to talk about the circumstances surrounding her death, a note found beside her body was from Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger.

Kevorkian was a noted advocate for assisted suicide.

Virginia is one of 39 states that has laws prohibiting assisted suicide.  46 states, including the District of Columbia, consider assisted suicide illegal.

Dr. John O’Bannon, a physician and Virginia State Delegate, says a person’s decision to die is a personal one between a patient and their doctor. O’Bannon once served on an ethics committee for the American Medical Association.

“If somebody is in fact terminal and they’re in pain,” O’Bannon says, “we have an obligation… to keep them out of pain.”

However, O’Bannon argues it’s also a physician’s responsibility to honor life and keep a patient alive as long as possible.

“I really think a lot of this comes down to people wanting to stay in control of themselves and their bodies and their lives,” O’Bannon argues.  “That’s where you have a great help from living wills.”

While more states are considering death with dignity laws, O’Bannon doesn’t foresee Virginia legislation anytime soon.