Brittany Maynard does not want to die.
But she is dying and knows there’s nothing she can do about it.
With that knowledge - she has an inoperable brain tumor - she has put a plan in place to take her own life after enjoying as much of what is left of it.
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For that, some people have claimed, in the nicest, most respectful way they know how, that she is subverting God’s will, is being selfish and setting a poor example for the rest of it.
One of the most articulate of those critics is a Catholic seminarian who also has an inoperable brain tumor.
There is a card on Brittany’s website asking for signatures “to support her bravery in this very tough time.” I agree that her time is tough, but her decision is anything but brave. I do feel for her and understand her difficult situation, but no diagnosis warrants suicide. A diagnosis of terminal cancer uproots one’s whole life, and the decision to pursue physician-assisted suicide seeks to grasp at an ounce of control in the midst of turmoil. It is an understandable temptation to take this course of action, but that is all that it is – a temptation to avoid an important reality of life. By dying on one’s “own terms,” death seems more comfortable in our culture that is sanitized and tends to avoid any mention of the suffering and death that will eventually come to us all.
I have no problem with his decision to live out his final days (weeks, months or years) the way he has chosen to, as an example of redemptive suffering, the kind he believes helps us emulate and connect better to Jesus.
I respect it. I honor it.
But I don’t believe his decision is any more, or less, courageous than Maynard’s. And neither is it nobler or a better reflection of God’s plans for humanity.
It is just a considered, well-reasoned decision that works best for him in his walk through this life - just as is Maynard’s.
He doesn’t love life any more than she does, doesn’t cherish or understand it any better, doesn’t respect it more.
He simply views it differently and has a different purpose.
He may be here to remind people that there are valuable lessons, and even redemptive power, in the suffering each of us has to endure.
Maynard’s purpose may be to remind people that this physical life comes to an end and that it doesn’t always make sense to hold on through everything, because sometimes the human actions we take can make things worse without us realizing it. She wants to cherish life knowing it is unwinding, a reminder to the rest of us that maybe we should do the same.
Critics of Maynard on the one hand love it when the sick choose to allow doctors to do everything humanly possible to stave off death - then claim that humans are distorting God’s plans by choosing to do what Maynard has decided to do.
No matter how you slice it, human thoughts and feelings are at play in all of these decisions, no matter if we choose the do-everything route or take measures at the end of life to seek comfort instead a couple more days or weeks with a beating heart.
If one of them is subverting God’s will, then each of them is. Or maybe the truth is that each of them is reflecting God’s will in the way each of them was purposed with when they were given life?
I don’t know what I would do in either of their situations.
But I do know what it feels like to be on your deathbed and having to tell your wife to make sure she knew how to get to the life insurance policy quickly.
I know what it feels like experiencing a hospital stay during which you become more convinced by the hour that you likely won’t be walking out, that you had reached the end.
It was not as scary as I thought it would be, but also wasn’t something that I wanted.
And even when you’ve “overcome” that bleak period, it scars you in ways that are hard to put into words. It’s one thing to understand that each of us will die one day, but another to have to deal with that reality.
I don’t have inoperable brain cancer and I’m recovering every day from the lowest moments. But I know that the person having to face this type of choice is often full of guilt because he knows his presence, his pain, is being felt by his loved ones, and it only grows worse the more he realizes he can’t give his loved ones what he wants to more than anything: peace.
I can’t tell you that Maynard is making the right decision. I’m not God.
But that she has a strong support system and access to good medical care tells me the choice she’s made hasn’t been forced upon her.
Brain cancer did force its way into her body, just as some kind of malady will force its way into each of ours. For many of us, we’ll be confronted with this choice, too. When that time comes, I hope all of us can make it based on what’s right for us, not on what someone else would chose.