So it turns out that Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old Oregon women, terminally ill with cancer, lived up to her promise to take her own life at the beginning of November. Reports out of Portland are that she died Saturday night.
Maynard had announced a while back that she would do this. She picked her own date to die and used the time between then and last night to knock things off her bucket list and to get her affairs in order. She apparently chose to end her life because her treatments were not helping her avoid extreme pain and discomfort and she felt no need to continue on, especially when even with treatment, doctors said she did not have long to live.
Of course her decision sparked much debate about physician-assisted suicide and the right to die with dignity - essentially, suicide. Some completely understand and agree with Maynard’s decision. If she was going to die anyway, why be forced to go through more weeks and months of pain and suffering? Why put her family through all of that?
And then of course there is the other side. Many religious leaders were opposed to her decision, saying it was a sign of her giving up hope and faith, not trusting in God to decide when she would die or if a miracle could happen at any time. And there are those who say the medical profession, by definition, should never be involved in helping someone end their life. This was not a case of stopping treatment for Maynard, but rather of letting her chose the day she dies and helping her follow through with it. It is why Maynard moved to Oregon from California. Oregon is one of five states, which include Montana, New Mexico, Washington and Vermont, that have legalized physician-assisted suicide. In Oregon, 752 people have used the law to end their lives since the law was passed.
Frankly I have mixed emotions about this. I do believe a person who is terminally ill, and in pain, should not have to just wait around to die because it makes the rest of us feel better. I don’t think such a decision is cowardice or a lack of hope. I think it takes extreme courage and peace of mind, assuming a person is of the right mind, to make such a decision.
But I have to admit, physician assisted suicide does make me a bit uncomfortable. There is a part of me that feels such a decision is throwing in the towel when no one can know for sure what may happen as far as medicine or cures a month from now.
But here’s the thing: that is how it feels for me, and others who are not having to deal with the pain, physically and emotionally, of a terminal illness. Brittany Maynard did what she felt was right. Her husband and family accepted her decision. Who are the rest of us to judge her and decide for her she should keep going? As long as doctors and others are sure a person is thinking clearly, it should be a person’s right to live or die on their own terms.
Maynard lived and died the way she wanted. Wouldn’t we all like that?