The purpose of this thesis is to identify the key determinants of changes in the public’s perception and the historical and legal context for the current laws that govern the Right to Die in America. At its essence, the Right to Die Movement can be summarized in six selected narratives that were performed, told, debated, or reported for the public throughout history. Each of these six stories was presented with the most effective communication technologies available to the narrators in their respective eras.
The thesis includes an original research study assessing the impact of a social media phenomenon on the Right to Die Movement. While the Brittany Maynard Farewell video may not have been solely responsible for the surge of public support for MAID, it certainly captured the sense of autonomy and individual rights Americans believe they have in 2014 and continuing at least through 2019. This belief in autonomy and individual rights influenced the American sense of who owns their bodies and who can control their deaths after they are given terminal diagnoses. The first key narrative introduced Natural Law and the Natural Rights that proceed from this universal law. The second opened up communication about death. The next three demonstrated to Americans what legal rights they had and which were withheld by tradition and law. The last narrative captured and embodied the American sense of autonomy and individual rights that a majority of Americans now feel they possess. The laws and policies that have resulted from the Right to Die Movement both define the boundaries of autonomy and construct an evolving understanding of human freedom.