Maynard was the 29-year-old Oregon woman who told national media she planned to kill herself because she was dying of brain cancer. Her cause was immediately adopted and promoted by the “Death with Dignity” movement, and she herself championed her and others' “right” to die. Days after she celebrated her husband's birthday on October 26, 2014, Maynard received a lethal dose of medication and passed away surrounded by her family on November 1.
According to the study, Maynard's suicide exhibited what's called a “contagion” effect, in which vulnerable individuals were influenced to attempt suicide in light of her death.
The contagion effect of assisted suicide may be greater than that of regular suicide. That’s because the advocacy, legalization, and social acceptance of assisted suicide necessarily entail the idea that suicide can be a legitimate option, that it can be a solution to someone’s problems, and that some lives are not worth living.
Statistics show that during the height of Maynard's publicity campaign in October 2014, there was a 37.1 percent increase in deaths from assisted suicides over the 2014 average. And in November, after Maynard's death, the numbers spiked to 71.4 percent over the yearly average — the highest number for any month for at least five years.
At least one doctor dealt with a patient whose attempted suicide was inspired by Maynard's own. “I hospitalized a young suicidal patient … who told me how he had done an Internet search for suicide drugs after watching the slick video glamorizing Brittany which was produced by the Hemlock Society (now Compassion & Choices).”
The doctor went on:
The social threshold of inhibition against suicide has been steadily eroded by the rhetorical strategy of calling for an endorsement of suicide in hard cases through labeling such endorsement compassionate. The Brittany Maynard tragedy is a prime example of this. ... We see how suicide contagion works when the media admire the suicidal person and speak of suicide as a form of heroism.
Read the full study here.