“Dying with Dignity”

I suppose by now most of you have heard that Brittany Maynard, the young woman with a terminal brain cancer diagnosis, opted to end her life over the weekend in an effort to “die with dignity.”

My thoughts, of course, are shaped by my Catholic upbringing, so if you’re in the camp that lauds Ms. Maynard for her “bravery,” feel free to move along, rather than subject yourself to the “other” side.

(And no hard feelings, okay? We’re ALL entitled to our own opinions!)

Okay, for those still with me, I’d like to point out a few things Ms. Maynard obviously never considered:

  • Our lives aren’t “ours.” They were bought at great price by the God of the universe, and we have NO right to end them. Murder, even of self, is wrong and always has been. I know it’s popular to say we’re free to do as we wish, but can we? Really? Don’t we get arrested if we whip out a gun and shoot the guy who cuts us off in traffic? Don’t the police come running when we set our warehouse on fire to collect insurance money? Just because a state (like Oregon) has decided it’s okay for physicians to assist the suicides of terminally-ill patients doesn’t make suicide right.
  • We don’t get to “choose” how we’re born … or how we die. We don’t get to choose the family we’re born into, the color of our skin, the talents we’re given. Every one of us has the opportunity to “die with dignity” when our time comes. To embrace death as a pathway to the hereafter, to comfort our grieving loved ones, to meet the next challenge with courage and faith. Not to swallow some pills and “check out” when we don’t get dealt the hand we wanted.
  • Not even doctors KNOW without a doubt that “terminal” means terminal. In fact, just this week, I received a notice from Mayo Clinic that they’d uncovered a drug that, for all intents and purposes, is a “cure” for melanoma. Cures are being discovered every single day by hard-working scientists. How would Ms. Maynard feel if a cure for her illness showed up a month after she’d passed on? How would her family feel?
  • As for bravery, I don’t think so. Plenty of people — Christopher Reeve, Farrah Fawcett, Gilda Radner, Michael J. Fox, and countless others — give us exemplary models of what it’s like to carry a cross not of their choosing.

I’m sure Ms. Maynard thought she was doing what was best for herself, but at 29, she couldn’t have known. Certainly she was afraid of what usually is seen as a horrendous death. Certainly she didn’t want her family to watch her physical and mental decline. But suffering is part of life; indeed, it has redemptive powers. My pity now is for her loved ones left behind.

16 thoughts on ““Dying with Dignity”

  1. My son, who is 29, was over last night. We were having dinner and watching the news when the story about this woman came on. I asked him if he were in her shoes what would he do. He didn’t hesitate. He replied, “I’d fight it, and live my life.” Enough said.

  2. Debbie, I have followed Brittany’s story for the past month, so yes, I’m aware of it.

    My initial feeling was that I wouldn’t take my own life had I been Brittney. However, after watching many interviews with her, I came to the conclusion that her choice was her own and one that was contemplated deeply. It may not have been my choice, but it was hers. Also, I think her family was totally behind her and I don’t feel pity for them, but rather grief. And not because she chose to end her life, but because of the grief we feel whenever we lose someone we love. Even her mother said in several interviews that she would support her daughter no matter what choice she made. And that to me is unconditional love.

    As far as God goes, I think everyone’s relationship with God is different. So this was between God and Brittany.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on this topic, my friend. It’s definitely a sensitive one.


    • Ron, thank YOU for adding these thought-provoking statements to the discussion. I just know that most of us don’t get to choose how and when we die. Having watched my late dad pass on (in a hospital, on a respirator — neither of which was his preference), I understand how difficult the whole process of death is. We each perceive it differently, of course, and I suspect a lot of that is based on our beliefs in an afterlife. I’m awfully glad I’m not God and have to sit in judgment over people. What we see from the outside looking in can be so different from what He sees looking into someone’s heart!

  3. I agree with Ron on this. I doubt I would have chose as Brittany chose, but it was her choice. No judgment here, it was between Brittany and God.

    • Thank you, Suzi, for expressing your views. I don’t propose to pass judgment on her, either (it’s not my place), but my heart is stirred with compassion for anyone facing a terminal illness.

  4. —-Hi, Debbie,
    I SO much appreciate your thoughts here.
    This story has started such a gigantic dialogue & I respect what people are saying, but I believe we all have a choice ( and this includes what Brittany Maynard decided to do with her last days. ) Do I consider her brave? I’m not sure about that…. But she has the RIGHT, YES she does, to do as she wishes with her own life and DEATH.

    I DO NOT judge her for that. There is ONE judge. .That’s it.

    I believe in the Bible & God, but this story has really turned me upside down, inside out.

    I mean, why must we watch suffering? Excuse me, I must go ask God about this crisis.

    xxxx kISS and respect from MN.

    • I think we’re all stirred by this story, Kim. I mean, this was a young woman, an attractive woman, with a loving family and friends. We think “how cruel!” that she should have been sentenced to such an illness when she was just starting to LIVE. In a perfect world, there would be no sickness, no death!

      And, while none of us can say for a fact how we would’ve handled that kind of diagnosis, it’s probably a good thing that at least we’re talking about it. And we can disagree without being disagreeable! The Bible has a LOT to say about suffering, by the way.

  5. This is tough. I don’t know what I would’ve done in her situation because I’m not. I’d like to think God would give me the strength to follow his will, whether it be fight or accept my fate quietly. Like the other commenters, I prefer to not judge and leave it between her and God.

    On the flip side, though, I’ve watched love ones die a slow, painful death. It takes courage to go that route as well. (When my paternal grandmother had a stroke, my parents made the difficult decision to honor her wishes and not insert a feeding tube. She basically starved to death over the following 1.5 months.)

    • You know, Janna, sometimes it’s hard honoring our loved one’s wishes when they conflict with ours, too. Daddy didn’t want a respirator, but when the EMTs asked him if he did, he agreed because he wanted to be able to breathe. One of our parish priests used to say that it was the elderly who clung tightly to life, not the young people; who knows why?

      I guess I’ve always believed that, when we come to the end of our rope, we realize God is there and hasn’t abandoned us. And I firmly believe there’s Life after death (and it will be a WHOLE lot better than here). Thanks for feeling safe enough to add your thoughts to this topic!

  6. I’ll say this: I think she considered it well, and it’s clear she had support from her family. I don’t think I could follow in her footsteps. It seems to me that there’s a very fine line between wanting to die with dignity, and wanting to be the one who’s in control until the very end.

    One thing that’s crossed my mind a time or two is that her decision wouldn’t have been possible for a poor person. She did, after all, move to Oregon in order to have her freedom of choice. I’d bet with a high degree of certainty that 99% of the people in the world wouldn’t have that luxury.

    • We Americans tend to value being in control, don’t we? We elect people based on how “responsive” they are to our needs/wants; we like it when sports announcers proclaim that a team “controls its own destiny.” But I’m just not sure “control” is anything but an illusion. After all, we have no control over the weather, we can’t force people to love us, and, if we’re really honest, we have to admit we’re powerless in lots of situations.

      Taking a pill when we’re tired of living, or afraid of what lies down the road, sounds very much like suicide to me — and everything in me rails against that. LIFE matters! Ask anybody on his/her deathbed if they’d choose another day of living, and I’ll bet most would, if they could.

      You bring up an interesting point about finances, one I hadn’t thought of. Which kind of makes me wonder whether “dying with dignity” might some day be “reserved” only for those who can afford it??

  7. I believe in choice. In my opinion, the courage displayed by Britney and her family shows up in how they lived, not in how Britney died. Perhaps, Gods will for her was to advocate for the death-with-dignity act, or to open up a difficult and painful conversations around dying. The only person qualified to make this decision is the person dying along with the people she has chosen to walk with and guide her through her thought process. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Valuable, indeed.

    • I respect your opinion, Katybeth; however, I don’t believe in a God who wants people to die at their own hands. If He wanted Brittany to open the conversation about dying with dignity, she could have done so — without actually having to die. How much more impressive it would have been, had she carried her story to its natural conclusion, actively advocating all the way to the end! Thanks for adding to the conversation here.

    • Why, Professor, thank you! I never mean to offend any of my readers, but sometimes, we just have to write about the topics that make us uneasy. I realize most folks online are singing Brittany’s praises, but I just can’t.

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