The Missing Right: The Right to Die

Have you heard of Brittany Maynard? No? You can read her story here. She’s an inspiration.  She is 29 years old and she has taken control of when she will die.

If you have ever watched a family member suffer from a terminal illness, or perhaps faced that fear yourself, you cannot disagree with the right to die movement; the belief that humans should be allowed to die with dignity and on their own terms.

Let’s face it. We do not necessarily prompt our terminally ill diagnosed family members to seek every treatment possible for their own well being. We do it for us.  As a population in this country we have a difficulty accepting death.  It is difficult to watch someone we love suffer, to be in pain, to die. It hurts. It’s excruciating. But, what if we allowed our patients to decide for themselves on what terms their life ended? What if we as a society accepted that death is inevitable; albeit from “natural” causes, or terminal illness? Would that be so bad?

Brittany’s story is not only controversial because of the decision she has made, but the age at which she has made it. She is a young bride; she is barely 30. Some would say she’s hardly given life a chance.  I believe she is making the best decision for her and her family. They have chosen to move to Portland, Oregon where Death With Dignity acts have been put in place.  She has chosen a date.  She has chosen to LIVE her final days and die without causing her family, or herself, undue suffering and pain.

Brittany does not want to die. I have issues with calling her decision “assisted suicide”. Suicide indicates, to me, that the individual has a desire to end their own life.  In this case, as I would believe in most cases of terminal illness, the patient does not want to die, but rather has accepted that they will die and has chosen to do so on their own terms. The owner of the disease should be the owner of the treatment. Even if that involves the decision to die.

I work with a woman whose husband was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer some time ago.  He was given a limited expectation to live. Luckily, over the past few months he has responded positively to treatment.  But, the cancer is in his bones. Although doctors believe he is in partial remission now, that does not mean it will last. Yesterday, she told me that if he is again given a limited window of time they will pack up and move to Oregon. I always believed her to be an extremely conservative woman; a true “Texan”. I was somewhat surprised to hear this from her, but also extremely supportive. The potential of a Death with Dignity act to be passed in Texas is about as likely as gay marriage to be legalized.  This conservative state believes in dying for two reasons: death row or war. The fact that I consider her to be a true “Texan” and she still would chose this course leads me to believe that it is not such a “liberal” ideal after all.

Supporting a loved one’s decision to die on their own terms is not supporting a suicide or killing them.  Watching a family member die of a horrible illness is excruciating not only for the patient, but the family.  It is painful, it is horrific, it is hurtful and it will leave you emotionally scarred.  Why are we so afraid of accepting the end and enjoying the limited time together for what it is? Why is it a bad thing to have nothing but happy, comfortable memories of the final days rather than spending them huddled around a hospice bed in prayer?

Our country needs to wake up.  Not supporting these decisions is selfish.

If you believe in dying with dignity visit Compassion and Choices where you can also support the Brittany Maynard Fund. 

 

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