Maybe it’s Time to Look At Death Differently
Her name has been all over the news; her face has been on the cover of magazines. A year ago she was only known by those in her inner circle. She was just a nameless face in the crowd. Today, however, her name is well known and mired in controversy.
Brittany Maynard was only living her life – falling in love, getting married, traveling, and working hard to be kind human being. Yet today she is no longer here in this world. Her young life is now over at age 29, having taken her own life and dying with grace.
This story has been gaining such momentum and media coverage, thanks to a very strong and brave young woman. I have often thought of myself as brave and strong, but I’m not sure I could have done what Brittany did when it came down to it – ended my own life, ingesting the cocktail that would help me to never wake up again.
We all know the saying: “You never know what tomorrow holds.” For those of you who have suffered severe loss or illness, you no doubt understand what that statement truly means. I understand as well. I once heard those same words that ultimately led Brittany Maynard to take her own life: you have cancer. I’m just fortunate to still be here, healthy and alive. One minute I was just living my normal life, making my kids a snack before getting the phone call that changed my whole life. The call that changed even the person I once was.
Brittany never dreamed of growing up to be the center of so much controversy. She never imagined she’d have to face a decision like the one she confronted. But a terminal illness forces even the best of us to consider the unimaginable; the possibility that death is right around the corner. If that’s true, why did her decision have to be met with such opposition and controversy?
Some illnesses leave people so physically changed and in pain on a daily basis. Cancer is certainly one such illness. Why then should we force cancer patients to wait until the horrible disease has run its course?
Here is the ugly future that a person who has been diagnosed with brain tumors is facing. It is a life complete with the following:
- Loss Of Speech
- Cognitive Dysfunctions
It’s so easy to judge others and their major life decisions. Having been raised in the church, I’m aware of the serious nature of the subject of suicide. I’ve heard people wonder aloud, “Do we ever have the right to end our own lives?” There is no doubt that life is sacred – I think that’s one thing we can all agree on. Yet is full-time suffering in agony – whether it’s physical or emotional – really any way to live? Should that also be considered sacred?
“For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me,” Brittany told People Magazine. “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.”
Being diagnosed with Stage IV glioblastoma was not her choice; that was out of her control. The doctors gave her six months to live when she was diagnosed. Therefore, wasn’t the cancer already killing her before she took her own life? She had already been given a death sentence. As a society, we treat human life as sacred. No one could argue with that. But why is it so hard to choose a death with dignity and peace? I find it strange that in every city across America, we have the choice to end the lives of our beloved animals when they begin to suffer so greatly their quality of life is compromised. Yet humans are told they must continue living even when their quality of life has completely evaporated.
In following Brittney’s passing, maybe now is a good time to take a new look at how we perceive death and dying. Pro-life groups are always going to promote life. But life should be full of love and hope. It should also be pain-free. When a person’s quality of life is tearing her apart, how is that pro-life? It seems almost cruel to force a person to live such a tortured life.
What if our pro-life stance considered a person’s quality of life when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer? What if we were allowed to control our own destinies, even when it came to death? After all, we’re free to choose who we marry, where we want to live, and where we work. Why then can’t we die with grace and dignity? Some choose to end their lives in secret because of the shame they will face from others? But what if there was another way?
By no means am I promoting mass suicide. But there will always be suicide; humans will always have the right to end their lives. But for those who have lost a person to suicide and suffer from the pain of that horrible loss, it’s important to consider if there might have been another way. Brittney was terminal. Everyday she woke up with the knowledge that she was one day closer – one breath closer – to meeting her end. Some people suffer from mental torment or other life-altering diseases. Brittney could have ended her life in secret, but she chose to be brutally honest with the world. She loved her family so much and she was brave enough to have them surrounding her and supporting her as she drank the mixture that ultimately killed her. But her family got to say goodbye, and Brittney didn’t die alone.
To date in the U.S. there are only five states that help with assisted death: Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Montana, and Vermont. Of course, anyone can take their own life. Yet people suffering from terminal conditions who want to go with dignity and grace must live in one of these states to do so.
Death is coming for all of us. In time we will all breath our last breaths. Rather than judge others who are confronting this, maybe it’s time for each of us to look at life and death a little differently? Maybe it’s time to reexamine life in terms of its quality, rather than simply being just a heartbeat. Ultimately, being pro-life may also mean being an advocate for a graceful and dignified end when the time comes, when a person’s suffering outweighs the actual breaths she takes.