I’m sure by now most of you have heard or read the news story about Brittany Maynard, the young woman who decided to end her own life before her devastating terminal brain cancer would end it for her. In case you haven’t heard about it, you can read some of her story here. There has been some controversy surrounding her decision to end her own life, but mostly I’ve read and heard supportive commentary about her very personal and way beyond just difficult decision. Of course, the Vatican came out strongly opposing her decision, but that was to be expected.
Admittedly, the first time I came across this story in my news feed, I was taken aback. I thought, really? Why would anyone, but especially a young newlywed woman, opt for such a painfully devastating choice? How could she do that to her new husband? How could she do that to her mother and step father, family and friends? How could she do that to herself?
But then I thought more about it and, of course, realized her decision wasn’t her husband’s or her parents’ or her friends’ to make; it was hers and hers alone.
Or was it?
Death with dignity, is there such a thing? And if so, what does this mean?
Death from any serious illness or condition can sometimes be painfully slow and painfully difficult for the person suffering and dying and for the loved ones witnessing it. But when does it become too painful and too difficult? When and where is that line? Or is there a line at all?
I guess this is where some of the controversy comes in.
I remember when my mother was extremely ill, lying in a bed at a care facility and unable to do much of anything at all anymore. She was dying from metastatic breast cancer and it was a slow, painful and agonizing experience for her and for my family to witness. I remember there were moments when I wished the end would just come for her because she was suffering so much. I also remember immediately feeling guilty for thinking such things. I bargained with God for more time. I wanted more time; just one more day or one more night. I wanted it both ways. I remember sitting by her bedside feeling helpless thinking a lot about the process of death and how it is sometimes quite cruel. I remember thinking dying with dignity is certainly something every human being deserves. And I wondered if my mother felt she still had her dignity in tact. (We were following her end of life directives).
Had we ‘taken away’ her dignity by placing her in that care facility or by other things we did or did not do? I prefer to think we had not, but in all honesty, I’m not so sure.
Obviously, that was a difficult time and although some of my memories from those days and weeks are very painful ones for me to recall, they are also some of my most treasured ones. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
So perhaps this is another dilemma in such decisions. Should we take away time from our loved ones, or even from ourselves, by speeding up the dying process or should we never do such a thing?
If you’re a religious person, you might view it as tampering with God’s plan; you might even feel such a thing is forbidden.
But then again, you might not.
I have no answers and I certainly offer no judgment regarding Brittany Maynard’s decision. It’s not my place to judge such things.
I cannot help but think of the Native American concept of a person having a ‘good death’ when his/her time comes. An honorable death.
What a good death means to you and to me might mean very different things.
But I do think death with dignity is certainly part of what a good death means to most of us.
Brittany Maynard chose death with dignity, so for her, hers was a ‘good death’.
For her family and friends, that is what mattered most and still does.
But the questions about death with dignity, what it means, and those lines we choose to cross or not to cross remain.
Perhaps they always will.
What does death with dignity mean to you?
What is your view on Brittany Maynard’s decision?
Is this something you would ever choose, why or why not?
To read more about Brittany’s decision and legacy, visit The Brittany Maynard Fund, An initiative of compassion and choices.