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By now you will have heard about Brittany Maynard – a terminally ill woman who ended her own life today. She was 29.

Brittany was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumour, and given 6 months to live. Determined not to let the disease control her life and – indeed – death, she moved with her family from California to Oregon, where she could legally die under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

From her diagnosis, Brittany used social media to bring the ‘right-to-die’ conversation into our homes, schools and workplaces.

This tragedy has changed perceptions – Brittany was young, vivacious and self-assured; to date, the most prominent right-to-die challengers have been older and less capable of providing immediate insight into their condition and their way of thinking.

Despite the predictable raft of religious groups and social commentators conveying their sympathy on one hand yet ham-fistedly championing their inconsiderate moral position on the other, the conversation has reached a wider audience – an audience that will encounter this dilemma first-hand and in greater droves as the years pass by.

Brittany knew she was dying, she was in pain, she knew she had no prospect of recovery. Her detractors on social media forced her to state that "They try to mix it up with suicide and that's really unfair, because there's not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying."My sincere hope is that a more informed discussion can now take place – without the emotional leveraging of religious groups and moral crusaders.

We need to consider not only the psychological and physical challenges of serious illnesses, but also the dignity of the individual at the heart of the tragedy. A mentally capable adult should enjoy not only the right to life but the right to die peacefully and with dignity. 

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