By now I’m sure we’ve all heard about Brittany Maynard, the young woman who publicly announced she would take her own life in lieu of suffering while terminal brain cancer slowly eroded her vitality and quality of life. Brittany’s decision has polarized our nation, with Death With Dignity advocates on one side championing the right for terminally ill people to choose how they want to die and the religious right on the other accusing her of taking God’s decision away from Him. Brittany had to move to Oregon from California because Oregon is one of only five states where Death With Dignity is legal.
I fully support Brittany Maynard’s decision to take her own life. Now, before anyone jumps up and starts hurling the word “hypocrisy” at me, let me explain. Yes, I support and raise funds for suicide prevention. Death With Dignity, however, is a bit different from suicide. The type of suicide prevention I lobby and raise funds for is the type which is the result of mental illness and/or addiction. Mental illness and addiction, while not curable, are treatable and most people affected by either mental illness/addiction can live happy and productive lives with the right treatment.
Folks with terminal illness are going to die and die soon. Moreover, they are going to suffer while illness eats away at either their body or mind. Perhaps even both. Often they will be in pain. They will suffer. They will anguish. They will long for the release only death can give them. Terminal illnesses are also incurable, but there is often nothing that can be done to ease the suffering someone with a terminal illness experiences. In Maynard’s case, she was suffering debilitating seizures and was sometimes unable to even speak.
When a pet has cancer, we put it down to ease its suffering. It’s the humane thing to do, we say. When a horse breaks its leg, we put it down so it doesn’t contract laminitis. We want to prevent its suffering. However, when it comes to humans it seems the “humane” thing to do is let them suffer unbearable pain until they die naturally. So the opponents of Death With Dignity seem to think it’s okay to “play God” with animals, but not humans, even though we are all creatures of God. I would also point out that if someone has a terminal illness God has already decided to take that person.
I have lost a handful of family members to cancer, most notably my paternal aunt. I was only 18 when she passed. She had moved to Columbus, OH because OSU had an outstanding oncology program. I was only able to visit her a couple of times while she fought for her life, but the couple of times I saw her she didn’t look like the woman I knew and loved. Her body was almost completely gone. It looked like all that remained of her was skin and bones. She was bedridden, without the strength to even sit up. The smile on her face when she saw me seemed to sap her of any energy she had. It absolutely broke my heart to see the woman I once knew confined to a hospital bed, stripped of her spirit. If at any point she would have asked to have her suffering ended, there’s no way I could have refused her.
Did I want her to die? Absolutely not. Did I want her to kick cancer’s ass and make a full recovery? Hell yes. Were either of those within her control? No. She had gone through treatment and it didn’t work. For me to ask her to hang on for my own selfish reasons would have been horrible. Absolutely horrible.
For any of us to expect a terminally ill loved one to wait for death’s cold embrace when they would rather die on their own terms is absolutely selfish beyond reason. Of course we don’t want to lose anyone, but is it really fair to ask someone to suffer unimaginable pain just so they stay with us for a few short months longer living a life in agony? Why would we do that to someone we love?
If ever I’m diagnosed with a terminal illness, I will be making the same decision Brittany Maynard did. Someone who has exhausted all treatment options should not have to remain trapped in their mind while their body slowly rots away. Any person in such a situation should have the right to choose how they die.
Brittany Maynard ended her life on November 1, having come a decision that her quality of life had eroded to the point where she no longer wanted to suffer the symptoms of her illness. While I’m terribly sorry this happened to her and her family, I’m very glad she was able to avoid months of hardship and her family months of watching her suffer.