By Michelle Boring
On November 1, 2014, Brittany Maynard, 29, died, by physician-assisted suicide.
Weeks before her scheduled death, Maynard’s story shot into the media, not because of her struggle with terminal cancer but because of the way she chose to die. Maynard elected to end her life by physician-assisted suicide, which occurs when a terminal patient chooses to obtain a lethal drug from a physician and willingly self-administers it to end his or her life.
Maynard was diagnosed, on January 1, 2014, with stage-two brain cancer. After a surgery to remove and stop the growth of her tumor, the tumor came back in April 2014. She was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, stage-four brain cancer, and she was given six months to live.
Maynard elected physician-assisted suicide because she knew she would not be cured. The only treatment available to her would have diminished her quality of life even further. Stage-four brain cancer has only one outcome, and it’s not an easy way to die. If Maynard would have chosen to live, she would have suffered from seizures, head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms. Her mind would have been eaten away by the cancer before the rest of her body shut down.
In order to have access to the Death with Dignity Act, Maynard moved to Oregon, from her home, in California. This law allows terminally ill, mentally competent adult residents to request a prescription to quicken their deaths. Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and in certain cases, New Mexico and Montana, are the only states to offer this service.
People die every day from cancer. People have elected to die in these states before, so why did this story make national news?
Maybe it was because Brittany Maynard was a beautiful young newlywed trying to have a family. It made news because she partnered with a nonprofit organization to raise awareness. It made news because she chose to die with some dignity and peace, but people told her it’s a sin to commit suicide.
In an interview with C.N.N., Maynard said, “I’m not killing myself. Cancer is killing me.”
I’ve heard a lot of people say they would or wouldn’t do what Maynard did. Sometimes the reason is deliberate, but most of the time it isn’t. I hate when people say “what if” about a situation that they know nothing, but I’ll admit that I do it too.
So would I do it?
Yes. If my alternative was to die a painful death that would have me wither to a lifeless body, I think I would. Of course, that’s hard to say for sure.
I’ve watched people die from cancer. I’ve watched them lose their hair and weight until they became bones covered in skin. I’ve watched them curl in on themselves in a hospital bed, too weak even to open their eyes. I’ve seen people after strokes struggle to rebuild themselves and ultimately give up and wait for death. I’ve watched people have seizures. I’ve watched people suffer. I’ve watched families suffer while they stood by and watched the person they love deteriorate. It doesn’t interest me.
For a few months of my own life, I lived in a bed, unable to walk from the pain that started in my back and radiated down my legs. It felt like liquid metal being poured through my veins and encasing me. I often asked my doctors to cut my legs off. I asked for any relief, and I was given none. Thinking back on that experience, it convinces me I would ask for physician-assisted suicide if I was ever terminally ill. In this last situation, I wasn’t terminally ill. I knew there would be relief someday, but if I knew it wouldn’t get better, if it would only get worse, then I would elect to die with dignity. I would elect to choose when, so I could say goodbye to the people I love and let them see me as myself, not the hollow shell that is left.
I’m sure some of you are thinking that I have no respect for human life, for the miracle that we are given. I’m sure some say that I’m suicidal for thinking this way or that I would go to hell for this sin. That’s fine. I respect your opinion, even if I don’t agree with it. I understand the value of a human life, of any life, and I would never choose to end a life that wasn’t already ending. I choose dignity, but I don’t choose suffering. I choose life, but I don’t choose a life in which I’m not myself.
Everyone has the right to choose how to die when suffering from a terminal disease. Maynard had to uproot herself and her family from her home and move to another state to be able to carry out her wish to die peacefully. Is that right? She was already dying, and she had to leave everything she knew behind her. The Death with Dignity Act should be available in every state, so that even if you personally don’t want to use it, somebody who does can.
Having said that, I hope you will share your opinions with me. Start a well-thought-out and respectful conversation with me and each other.