Death with Dignity – My Thoughts on Brittany Maynard’s Decision

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.


Image via The Brittany Maynard Fund


21 thoughts to “Death with Dignity – My Thoughts on Brittany Maynard’s Decision”

  1. I can understand her decision, and think it was a incredibly hard choice they made. Incredibly hard. Perhaps one of the hardest. But at least once made she could find support (and a load of red tape, I’m sure, to check and double check decisions). Personally, I feel that is a good thing.

    1. Catherine, I’m sure her decision was indeed incredibly hard and I hope there wasn’t too much red tape involved. But of course, they had to move, so there were hoops to jump through for sure. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I would never say never. . . but I have said it before that my problem with Ms. Maynard’s statements is that she seems to imply that only those who chose to end their life “on their terms” can pass with dignity. This is so far from the truth. People who die from a long crushing disease can still have dignity. I have seen the love a family exhibits when a dear member is actively dying. She chose to opt out. But who knows what her path would have been. She was enjoying the beauty of the Grand Canyon, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world one week before. And now she is gone. I am sad for her and her family. I feel that she was influenced by the right to die people.

    1. Dawn, I think I read Ms. Maynard state that she wasn’t suggesting this was the right way for anyone else, just for her. So I don’t think that was ever her implication, but rather she was advocating for this option for all. I agree that dignity isn’t necessarily something we lose when our minds, or even our bodies fail. A person’s life encompasses a life time, not just the end. Lots of questions remain and I don’t know what I’d do in this situation for sure either. I appreciate how the topic of death is getting more discussion as a result of all this, and a young person’s death is bringing that about no less. Thanks for sharing some thoughts.

      1. Nancy I hear what you are saying but I do think that Ms. Maynard implied this at least.
        I believe she said ” I have chose to pass away with dignity.” To me her statement implies this. And believe me I understand her thinking, her fears and all the emotions that go along with it. She was visiting the Grand Canyon the week before. Was this the right chose for her? Her family? Do they have second thoughts and worries about what transpired?

        1. Dawn, I don’t read that implication into her words, but I can see how others might. I believe she was advocating for personal choice. I do wonder a little bit about those second thoughts too, but I’m sure there would have been second thoughts had they not gone this route too. It’s such a horrible situation all the way around. Thanks for adding some additional comments, Dawn.

  3. I don’t think one of the questions is: How could she do this to her family? She wouldn’t have been here one year from now had nature taken its course. She was going to put it off but after the Grand Canyon, she had some debilitating symptoms so she stuck with the plan. I think it was a brave decision. She didn’t choose suicide. She chose to die on her terms when she would have died anyhow. I don’t know what I would do under the same circumstances, but I respect her choice.

    1. Eileen, I agree with you, but yet I do feel in some ways she missed out on precious time that could still have been spent with her family. Is dying really only about the person dying? That’s the part I struggle a little with, but I am in favor of choices at the EOL. These are tough situations and horribly touch choices that’s for sure. Thank you for reading and sharing.

    1. Marie, I just read Jen’s post and it was so well-articulated. I’m actually sort of surprised there hasn’t been more judging going on regarding Ms. Maynard’s decision, but maybe I’ve missed some of those stories. I think you’re right about that lesson… Thanks for adding to this discussion.

  4. We do not have the right to judge on how someone chooses to live the end of their days due to a disease that will ultimately kill you.
    I have heard and read so many comments related to this subject especially in Blogs. Everyone has an opinion. Which is not a bad thing it keeps reminding us how fragile life actually can be.
    She was not an unwitting participant in ethical and moral construe with no comprehension of her choices or the controversy this might illicit, … She was smart beautiful and intelligent. Capable of making that final choice on how she wanted to leave with a sense of herself with dignity..
    Unfortunately not everyone gets the “perfect” hollywood death. Many people suffer from needless days weeks of agony because the same options are not readily available. Though passive euthanasia has been used by the medical community.
    I say “God Bless” her People have to realize it’s not how can she do this to her husband family & friends. It has nothing to do with them. It is simply a choice she made to complete her life with grace.. Alli XX

    1. Alli, I mostly agree with you, but I can’t stop myself from asking questions and wondering about her loved ones. Is death really only about the person dying? It is, but then again… And yes, that perfect ‘Hollywood’ death never really happens. I am all for choices at the EOL. I do know that much. Are the laws in Canada regarding assisted suicide (or whatever you want to call it) for EOL any different? Thanks for reading and for sharing your opinions on this.

      1. I’m not familiar what the laws are in the US. Here at least through first hand experience with family members it is clear there definitely is “help” by withdrawing life-sustaining treatment, discontinuing the extubation tube with holding or giving additional additional pain meds. Switching off machines, Although this kind of help is there it can also be a very difficult process. It was 6 days before my grandmother passed away. .My mother stayed alive for two days after.. Is death really about the person dying? Yes I believe so the rest of us are merely observers IMO . It would be selfish of us who are left behind to try and hinder our loved one from doing or taking necessary steps to alleviate what potentially could mean a painful death To me my friend Cheryl comes to mind. She suffered an excruciating end…. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone nor did she had she been given another choice….. Alli xx

  5. I watched my dad battle with the same disease Brittany had and I am both grateful for every moment and traumatized by what I witnessed. It was an excruciatingly painful loss. I will say that it was an act of love for herself and her family as she spared her loved ones the agony of witnessing what the tumor would ultimately do to her and how she would die from it. I am not advocating or saying it is what I would do, however I will say from experience that no one should have to die the way she would have otherwise.

    1. Laura, I am sorry about your dad; I have some understanding about what you went through because I watched my mom suffer a lot. These decisions are hard, quite personal and there aren’t one-size-fits all answers. Every situation, every family and each family member is unique, even in death. Thank you for sharing about your dad.

  6. This one is a tough one for me, but I have never walked in Brittany’s shoes, and I am not sure what I would do in her situation. Right now I am figuring out how to walk in my own shoes, so I am not judging one way or another.

  7. It is interesting how much more meaningful this discussion is after you have been diagnosed with cancer. Before, I would not have been able to so clearly see myself in that position. Now, I still hope I will not be in that position, but I also know that I could be … I’m happy to know there are both US States and Canadian provinces where there is an option. Knowing that if the pain became too bad, that I would not be force to suffer unnecessarily … and that I would not have to make my family suffer along with me. Choosing to die is not just about the person, often it is something the person does not just to end their own suffering, but to lessen the suffering of the caregivers and loved ones. I’m not sure what hurts more, being in pain, or having my spouse have to see me in pain.

    1. Rebecca, I think it’s good there are options too. Even if we don’t agree with someone’s choice, we are all different in our beliefs, values and how we wish to die. And yes, knowing loved ones are witnessing everything can cause the dying person added pain and anguish. Ultimately, this is a very personal and private decision. Thank you for reading and adding to this discussion.

  8. Hi Nancy,

    I think Maynard made the right decision for her; it was well-thought-out, and her family and her were in sync with her wishes. I can see why this is a controversial topic, and this might not be the solution for everyone. I just can’t help but think that we don’t allow our dying pets to suffer, but we allow people to suffer. Maybe our culture has taken the “extending life” part of the dying process too far. I don’t know the answers; I just felt that Maynard made a very difficult decision, and she and her family have been very courageous about it.

    1. Beth, I feel pretty much the same way you do, although I do feel the dying process is about the loved ones, too, in some ways and I guess I’m the only one saying that, here anyway. But of course, Ms. Maynard’s family was supporting her decision. If they hadn’t been, I wonder if she would have still made the same choice. Thanks for reading and sharing thoughts on this difficult topic.

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