Defending Death With Dignity

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.

Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard (photo via etonline.com)

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.

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About Twindaddy (330 Articles)
Sometimes funny. Sometimes serious. Always genuine.

36 Comments on Defending Death With Dignity

  1. When my mother reached the end of her treatment options, she couldn’t choose suicide, but she could refuse treatment. At the end, she was receiving fluids only through a tube – no medication, no food. the thing that was killing her got her after a few days.
    While it was hard for my family, i was very happy she got to choose her way out in the end. I hope when the time comes, I can too.
    (Though I’m planning on riding a motorcycle off a cliff if it comes to that.)
    (One last fight with gravity will do me fine.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is hard to see, but prolonging the inevitable only prolongs the suffering. I, too, I’m glad your mom got to choose.

      And riding a motorcycle off a cliff is a bad ass way to go.

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  2. I am completely with you on your argument for Brittany’s right to die, but I still see so many parallels between Brittany’s physical suffering and the mental suffering of a severely depressed person. Maybe I should write my own post.

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    • There are a few parallels, no doubt. As I said, most people with mental illness can be treated. People with inoperable brain cancer cannot.

      I know there are some mentally ill people for whom no amount of therapy or medication can help them. And I guess in cases like that other options would have to be discussed. The problem is, a person in that condition is likely not to be in a sane state of mind, so who makes that decision?

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  3. I also believe we should each have the option if it comes to that. Good piece, Scott.

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  4. Pain and suffering, is horrid. Seriously I think we would all just like to peacefully fall asleep and never wake up when we have had a good long life. Unfortunately that is not the way things always turn out.

    If it was me I would want to choose to end the suffering. Not only because I don’t like pain, not only because I don’t want my family to see me suffer, but also ( and don’t shoot me here) I don’t want to rack up a heck of a medical bill, which my family may have to come up with. I don’t want to burden anybody.

    May she rest in peace.

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  5. Agree 1000%. I’ve wanted to write about this. I have very strong feelings on the subject. I think most of us who’ve had to watch someone we love die a slow death probably all have strong feelings about it. To compare suicide with this kind of choice is ignorant. The two are completely different. And false equivalencies only diminish both issues. Everyone should have the right to choose what is best for them in these situations. As it stands right now they are left to suffer or it puts loved ones in the horrible position of having to break the law to assist them in ending their suffering. Thank you for writing this.

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  6. I agree 100%. I usually stay away from controversial subjects. But, sometimes one has to step out and say what they think. I would choose to take my own life, my own way, then safer and make the ones around me suffer. I always thought this way since a teenager. I always said I would go somewhere by myself and just die, like wild animals do when they know it’s their time to go.

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  7. I agree with you wholeheartedly. And there is a huge difference between suicide and choosing to end one’s own suffering. HUGE.

    I’ve been with several people near the end. It doesn’t resemble the Hollywood version. They are hurting, struggling for breath, hemorrhaging. My sister-in-law who died from a progressive neurological illness could not blink her own eyelids for several months by the time “God” was done with her. Nor could she move at all. She was 54.

    I don’t plan to go to Oregon, though, when it’s my time. Vermont is much closer!

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  8. I agree Scott. Well written.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I wrote a similar post a while back before Brittany Maynard. Whilst I am a Christian and used to believe that only God can take a life, I do not understand the hypocrisy of then putting down your dog because you don’t want it to suffer. I think that people who are terminally ill should definitely have the choice to end their lives.

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  10. Agree with you and Brittany on this. I would do the same in her place!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Scott, you have written a very impressive piece on this tragic issue. Your Aunt Shirley, your Grandma Rocky, and your Grandpa (who unfortunately died when you were only 2 months old) all died slow and painful deaths of breast cancer, dementia, and COPD. If they would have had the opportunity to end their suffering earlier, I think they would have. I am going to be preparing a DNR and a living will soon in case it’s needed soon. I hope to have another 15-20 years left in me but you never know. I’m proud that you have the intellect, compassion, and drive to help in the suicide prevention cause and to state the various cases so eloquently in your blogs. Keep up the good work…..

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  12. Oh dude, you wrote so beautiful on this subject. Every word = perfection. Love you like nutella right now.

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  13. It’s the hypocrisy that bothers me the most about people who fight right-to-die/euthanasia. Those same people are often all for the death penalty. So, yeah, let me get this right. Fetuses and the terminally ill are off limits, but that guy in prison, fair game. Gotcha.

    Dying with dignity is something we should ALL have the right to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I agree that it should be up to the individual and also is something that should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to health – or at least, the only one that there should be is “we will do what is best for the patient and their family”.

    I don’t know how I would react if I were in that situation. I do know that if someone were to ask me to help them end their life if they were in that sort of a place, I would find that difficult.

    Life is precious, but what is a life without the health to enjoy it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would find it difficult, too, but you have to see beyond your own desires. Someone suffering and asking for an end to that suffering is likely not taking that decision lightly.

      Like

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