Back in 2011 I wrote the following piece after watching the movie How To Die In Oregon. It was eye opening, sobering, and uplifting all at once.
This week there is a 29 year old young woman making headlines. Her name is Brittany Maynard, and she has an inoperable, malignant brain tumor. It is called a stage 4 glioblastoma and she has been advised by experts that it will be "a terrible, terrible way to die." As such, Maynard has taken the brave and proactive step to end her life on her own terms because, as she has stated, "being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying."
She moved to Oregon to be able to avail herself of that state's compassionate Death With Dignity Act that allows for assisted suicide. She has chosen November 1st and will have her husband, parents, and friend (a doctor) with her when she takes the reins of her own destiny, pain & suffering, and leaves.
For anyone commenting online that this is cowardly - you are wrong. This is bravery, this is selflessness - she does not wish to inflict a protracted, painful period on her loved ones. She knows what the end will be like for her, and them, if it comes on its own.
She does not want to die. "There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die," she says. "I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there's not."
This beautiful, young, vibrant newlywed does not want to die, but all the wishing in the world won't make it so. So she is giving what she has left to give to those she loves - peace, instead of protracted agony; selfless love instead of long days of heartwrenching vigil; and the permission to celebrate her life, her choice, her dignity - while she is still able to celebrate it with them.
What follows is the piece I wrote four years ago. It is worth revisiting.
Love, light, peace, and wonder as you take your next step, Brittany. And may your openness, candor, and spirit move more states to adopt compassion and provide a legal means to control our final destinies when our ends are scripted in unimaginable suffering for ourselves and those who love us so.
A Cause To Die For
Yesterday, while folding laundry in my room, I scanned through the HBO channels on my DISH. I stopped on How To Die In Oregon, a documentary about the state's Death With Dignity law which allows physician assisted end of life prescriptions.
Note, I do not say physician assisted suicide. That's not what this is.
Suicide is an act by a desperate, often depressed, mentally compromised (if only in the moment of their action) person. This is far different than someone choosing control over how much pain they can withstand, how much intrusive medical treatment they will opt for, and how much burden they will place on their loved ones.
I completely support a person's right to choose in this regard. It is not up to me to look at a terminally ill, pain ravaged, inoperable individual and tell them, "No. Suffer on, baby."
But that is what so many in this country would do. Deign to tell another individual they cannot choose to leave. Because it makes them uncomfortable. And in most cases, because it doesn't jive with the manmade rules of their particular religion.
As with abortion, have an opinion - that's fine. Everyone is allowed one. Just don't stick your nose in my uterus and tell me what to do with it. Keep your religion out of my government, and your church instilled fears of afterlife retribution out of my pain.
It is heartbreaking to watch the movie. Following the stories of those who could not end their own suffering is sobering. Being allowed into the lives of those who were able to control their own ends is liberating.
These people don't want to die. What they want, very much, is to live - healthily, pain-free, enjoying one breath after the other forever. No one wants to die.
But we live in a country so backwards in its beliefs, beliefs so entrenched in religious rulebooks, and mindsets so puritanical that people truly think it is their right to tell others how to live.
People should all do a "There but for the grace of..."
It is easy in the abstract to pass judgement and tell someone to "hang in there." But what if it were you? What if your spouse or child were suffering horribly from inoperable brain cancer, tumors growing so large they literally are pushing their eyeballs out of their sockets. Pain so bad they can barely catch their breath. Pain that leaves them begging you to make it stop, begging you for release.
We do not ask our pets to suffer. We are humane, kind, loving. We allow them peace, a gentle exit from their pain.
Yet we do not offer this most basic of compassion to our fellow human beings.
This issue, again like abortion, is personal. If you don't support abortion, don't have one. But don't for two seconds think no one in your church has never availed themselves of the option. They have. And if you believe God will hold it against you for choosing the timing of your own escape from indescribeable pain and suffering, then suffer away, Just don't insert yourself in MY decision making, or condescend to think you have the right to make it for me.
When Death With Dignity bills come on the ballot, this movie should be required viewing before you are allowed to vote.
Again, no one wants to die, and if living on for years and years were an option, these people would take it. Sadly, that is not what we are talking about.
I only hope that if fate has something like this in store for me or someone I love, there will be a Death With Dignity option available where we live.
There is a Rainbow Bridge for people, too. If we release the leash so our animals can walk across it, perhaps it is time we take control of our own leashes so we can let go when, and if, we can no longer bear to hold on.