A reader was there and captured the moment:
Thanks to S.U.
A reader was there and captured the moment:
Thanks to S.U.
[guest post by Dana]
I’ve been writing and sitting on this post for the past three days, because every time I think I’ve got my thoughts solidified, I find that I don’t. I’m not inclined to vacillate on moral issues and yet, I am doing just that…
Brittany Maynard is 29 years old and dying from the deadliest form of brain cancer: Glioblastoma multiforme. Because of the size of her tumor, her recommended treatment would include full brain radiation which typically comes with some very severe and painful side effects. And because of that and her doctors informing her that her death from Glioblastoma would likely be painful and slow, she has opted to end her own life, on her own terms. This week she wrote about coming to this decision:
After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion: There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left.
I considered passing away in hospice care at my San Francisco Bay-area home. But even with palliative medication, I could develop potentially morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss of virtually any kind.
Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time even though cancer is eating my mind. I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months. And my family would have had to watch that.
I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.
Maynard and her family relocated to Oregon earlier this year to take advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which would allow her to end her life through the “voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.” The law has been in place since 1997 and as a result, more than 750 people have been allowed to die on their own terms.
Maynard is at peace with her decision. She points out that she does not believe it is suicide, and that she believes everyone should have the right to make this decision:
I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.
I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?
I hope for the sake of my fellow American citizens that I’ll never meet that this option is available to you. If you ever find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, I hope that you would at least be given the same choice and that no one tries to take it from you.
When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, “I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever’s next.” I will die upstairs in my bedroom with my husband, mother, stepfather and best friend by my side and pass peacefully. I can’t imagine trying to rob anyone else of that choice.
The issue of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is a touchy one. Proponents believe they should have the right to control their suffering to the point of ending it altogether, while simultaneously sparing their families the pain of watching their loved one suffer an agonizing death. Among other reasons, supporters also claim organs can be harvested while still viable and the skyrocketing costs of keeping a terminally ill patient alive longer can be better controlled. On the flip side, the most common argument against physician-assisted suicide involves ethics. Along with believing it to be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, there is also the slippery-slope argument of PAS. Further, opponents ultimately argue that it is God alone who decides when a person lives and when he dies:
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. (from Psalm 139)
Kara Tippets is dying from cancer, too. She has battled breast cancer for two years and it has now fully metastasized in her entire body. This mother of four small children read about Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life, and responded with her own letter to Brittany. Although both women are dying, both look at it from a different perspective:
Brittany, I love you, and I’m sorry you are dying. I am sorry that we are both being asked to walk a road that feels simply impossible to walk.
I think the telling of your story is important.
I think it is good for our culture to know what is happening in Oregon.
It’s a discussion that needs to be brought out of the quiet corners and brought brightly into the light. You sharing your story has done that. It matters, and it is unbelievably important. Thank you.
Dear heart, we simply disagree. Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.
In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.
As I sat on the bed of my young daughter praying for you, I wondered over the impossibility of understanding that one day the story of my young daughter will be made beautiful in her living because she witnessed my dying.
That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters — but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed.
Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying. My heart longs for you to know Him in your dying. Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.
As a person of faith, I believe our lives, fragile and determined, always hang in the balance. Our days are numbered. The when and how is not my concern nor anything I wonder too much about. God put me on this earth, He can take me out as well. I believe it’s His decision. With that, though, I also recognize I am not at this time facing a long drawn-out painful death and all that accompanies such a system shut-down. I am not carrying inside me the very real knowledge that I am afflicted with a disease that will slowly devour me in extraordinary levels of inescapable pain while the deterioration of my entire being occurs. So, easy for me to say.
However, even as a believer, I find myself conflicted. And ironically, it is precisely because of being very close with two dear women as they went from the point of diagnosis to horrendously painful deaths of cancer that has caused me to reconsider. Because of their Christian faith, neither ever considered taking a pill to end their suffering. And suffering was putting it mildly. Because what I witnessed was so ghastly for them, that it caused my own beliefs on PAS to be turned upside down. And still remain in conflict.
I watched these loved ones, some 15 years apart in passing, transform from vigorous women to frail shadows on that last leg of their journey. One suffered from the same insidious Glioblastoma multiforme as Brittany Maynard. And it is as awful as Maynard and her doctors described. What I learned from each woman’s long goodbye was, no matter the level of pain and suffering, they had an extraordinary grace in the face of death. But they were not fearless. It was simply that their faith that God walked with them every step of the way overwhelmed their fears. Their faith was their strength. More strangely and bewilderingly, it was also their joy – no matter how bad things got. And judging by their continued grace, it was a seemingly unlimited strength. Thus both, in complete surrender to God, were able to let go of this life on His terms. In their suffering they came to know and understand the mystery and beauty that is death, and life reborn. It is something I cannot quite grasp. I have read the scriptures and have heard the teachings. But I have not “lived” it. So, from my vantage point, their crushing pain and increasing lack of function was both cruel and horrible and enough for me to believe that no one should have to endure it.
Apart from the distrust I have for those in power to not use legal PAS to their advantage and understanding the inherently weak and self-serving nature of mankind that abuses all forms of power, if solid safeguards were in place to prevent the process from ever being anything but completely voluntary by those of a sound mind, should there be a choice in the matter for those who no longer have it in them to push through to the end? Or is it a Pandora’s box and that for the betterment of our society it should remain locked? And at the heart of it, too, for the person of faith, how does one square this with God – who has called us to suffer for His namesake and appointed our days?
As I said, I remain conflicted. I’m not interested in trite footprints-in-the-sand Christian offerings, but I am interested in hearing how you’ve wrestled with the issue and come to terms with it.
UPDATE BY PATTERICO: This is a very thoughtful post. My own thoughts, for what they are worth, is that each of us owns our own body, and we should be able to determine for ourselves how we go. But I worry about the slippery slope caused by government involvement in health care, which creates an irresistible incentive for bureaucrats to ration care by encouraging people to go before their time. If we had a true free market in health care, I would have fewer reservations.
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