Why Brittany Maynard’s Choice to Die Is Not Personal or Private

The saddest part is not the 29-year-old’s diagnosis, but her choice of physician-assisted suicide.

It has been heartbreaking these last few days to hear the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old, beautiful, young woman diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor and given only a few months to live. The saddest part of the story for me, however, is not her prognosis, but her decision to end her life prematurely on November 1 through physician-assisted suicide.

I understand she may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God. The journey Brittany — for that matter, all of us — will undertake on the other side of death is the most important venture on which we will ever embark. So it must not be disregarded or brushed aside without thinking twice about the God who alone has the right to decide when life should begin and end.

Unfortunately, three countries and five states have now determined that individuals can make these choices for themselves. This is what happens when God is removed: the moral consensus that has guided that society begins to unravel. People in this country have bought into the premise that one really is better off dead than disabled.

It shouldn’t be the state’s responsibility to help people who are despairing of their physical circumstances to kill themselves.

In the Netherlands, for instance, doctors are free to decide whether a child born with a disability should live. The government has come up with a guideline of standards and if the medical team believes that the child — or the parents — would face significant suffering, then that infant can be euthanized.

It shouldn’t be the state’s responsibility to help people who are despairing of their physical circumstances to kill themselves. Rather, let’s pour more effort into improving pain management therapies. Let’s channel more resources into the hospice movement. Let’s lift people out of depression through compassionate support and family assistance and help.

Romans 14:7 says, “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.” Brittany’s well-publicized decision is already influencing untold numbers of despairing people that physician-assisted suicide could be the answer to their problems. This is no way to strengthen care and nurturing in society; rather, such a decision further unravels the cords of compassion that have characterized our nation for so many decades. A right to privacy is radicalized by physician-assisted suicide — it does not strengthen the common good, but only alienates, separates, and dismantles us as a people who truly care for one another.

Proponents of Brittany’s decision are already using her story as a bully pulpit to advance their so-called death-with-dignity agendas.

If I could spend a few moments with Brittany before she swallows that prescription she has already filled, I would tell her how I have felt the love of Jesus strengthen and comfort me through my own cancer, chronic pain, and quadriplegia. I would tell her that the saddest thing of all would be for her to wake up on the other side of her tombstone only to face a grim, joyless existence not only without life, but without God.

Brittany may think her choice is a highly personal and private one, but it is not. Already, her decision has reignited hotly contested debates as to whether physician-assisted suicide should be expanded beyond the five states where it is legal. Proponents of Brittany’s decision are already using her story as a bully pulpit to advance their so-called death-with-dignity agendas.

But should access to lethal prescriptions be considered as merely another menu item available for dying patients? Is good hospice care allowing for people to control the timing and manner of their deaths? I do not believe so. Expanding hospice “services” to include an option to be put to death would not enhance palliative care, but actually interfere with the proper delivery of hospice services.

There are good laws throughout the U.S. that help people die with dignity — laws that provide advanced pain management therapies for people dealing with intractable pain. Plus, people have the legal right to refuse treatment if they don’t want it.

In addition, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in more states may send a bad signal to families who have little access to health care dollars: Would we be saying to low-income families, “We won’t provide health care for your critical condition, but we can make it easier for you to commit suicide”?

Three grams of phenobarbital will provide only a temporary reprieve and will only more quickly usher in an eternity separated from God. . .

Most of all, assisted suicide poses a real danger to people with disabilities. Who is to say when multiple sclerosis or ALS is classifed as “terminal”? People who receive a diagnosis of a chronic, disabling condition often experience suicidal feelings, but later adapt very well. Working through that initial period of despondency takes a lot longer than the “waiting periods” of existing physician-assisted suicide laws.

Only Jesus was able to transform the landscape of life-after-death by conquering the grave and opening the path to eternal life. Three grams of phenobarbital will provide only a temporary reprieve and will only more quickly usher in an eternity separated from God, which would be ultimate and pointless suffering.

Life is the most irreplaceable and fundamental condition of the human experience, and I implore Brittany and others considering her example to take a long, hard look at the consequences of a decision that is so fatal, and worst of all, so final.

Image courtesy of Dominik Martin.

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

    Thank (human) goodness that this country does not allow people like the author to impose their religious views on everyone else!

  • gladerunner

    Not the saddest part of this sanctimonious, finger wagging column, but sort of interesting:
    “Maynard, a 29-year-old, beautiful, young woman. . .”
    Beautiful?
    What, exactly, does that imply?
    As to the main point, the writer seems to assume that her own experiences and understanding/belief with Jesus/God is universal.
    If Maynard does subscribe to the whole God/Jesus thing at all, what have her pleas and prayers brought her so far?
    She’s terminal, not by choice. She will soon die, not by choice. She will never, ever get better. There is nothing for her on this planet other than desperation, fear and pain. Where has God/Jesus been up to this point?

  • Jim

    How do you know that she will be separated from God for all eternity? What puts you in a position to judge her? Can you read God’s mind? Did your loving God put her on earth to suffer terribly? There’s a line between prolonging life and prolonging death.

  • Desiree Fleagle

    I also have some concerns about physician assisted suicide. The same medical advancements that make it possible to choose to end your life without suffering are the same medical advancements that can offer comfort care until your body dies on its own terms. I am not a religious person but I do have a sense that our life is a gift from God. If that is the case, then there are probably lessons to be learned by not only the person who is disabled and or dying but also by the people who care for them. Even someone casually crossing paths with that individual may have a chance at a valuable life lesson. Is it a lost opportunity for human beings when we accept physician assisted suicide? With that being said, is there a life lesson to be learned by allowing someone who has thought long and hard about choosing to end their own physical pain and suffering? I don’t know the answer to that because I am not God. I suspect whatever happens to Brittany Maynard on November 1st, God will be with her.

    • bakabomb

      The grain of truth in your ponderings is that nobody should toss their life away on a whim. There’s nary a hint of that in the case at point here. The issue isn’t so much making a conscious decision when to end one’s own life, but to make a thoroughly considered and thought-through choice — whichever alternative you choose. While I don’t dispute your point about “life lessons”, it’s a hypothetical, and every individual should be entitled to weigh and judge that question for him or herself. Certainly “the state” is the last entity that should have any say-so in the matter.

  • http://findingmygrounduu.wordpress.com/ mom4peace

    Likening Maynard’s choice to end her suffering from a soon-to-be terminal illness to the government deciding about the life or death of another is a faulty comparison. They simply are not at all the same thing, and to pair them is to force a connection that simply isn’t there.

    Maynard has thought through what she wants, what she can bear. It would be lovely if she could have adequate symptom control at this point, but she clearly doesn’t. We do not manage end-of-life care well in this country, and it is, I think, somewhat because of Tada and thinkers like her who impose their religious values and beliefs on others. That’s hubris when an individual does it, but when religion starts to make the laws and drive political agenda, we have other more serious names for it.

  • Brian

    Wow… So you would tell her ” that the saddest thing of all would be for her to wake up on the other side of her tombstone only to face a grim, joyless existence not only without life, but without God.” How self righteous are you? What a comment… God gave us free will to make choices. She’s making a choice..

    • Love in Christ

      exactly… FREE will… either the free will … will send you to heaven or send you to hell…
      Suicide is Suicide… it doesn’t matter how its done .. by whom or what or whatever. God gave you life. He is the ONLY one allowed to take it away. PERIOD

      • Brian

        How do you know that “Love in Christ” ? Maybe before she drank her prescription, maybe, just maybe she asked for forgiveness, you know, like the murderer asked Christ for forgiveness on the cross. What did Christ tell the murderer, he told him he would go to Heaven. Isn’t that right? Let’s face, you don’t know where her spirit is going, you can’t know, because you aren’t God.. God is the absolute only one that knows.

  • Dan

    Speaking at Stanford University years ago, Malcolm Muggeridge summed up what
    is an accurate diagnosis of Western civilization in this remarkable quote from
    an American critic, Leslie Fiedler: “Thus did Western man decide to abolish
    himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own
    vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own
    erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city
    tumbling down. And, having convinced himself that he is too numerous, labors
    with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer, until at last, having
    educated himself into imbecility and polluted and drugged himself into
    stupefaction, he keels over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and becomes
    extinct.”- Quoted in The Trousered Ape by Duncan Williams.

    • bakabomb

      This merely demonstrates that like fish, codswallop doesn’t improve with age.

  • bakabomb

    “the God who alone has the right to decide when life should begin and end.”

    No doubt, then, you oppose capital punishment? Your formulation of doctrine leaves you no choice, and not a millimeter of wiggle room.

    I oppose it too. And I’ll tell you this: the moment I get a diagnosis of Alzheimers, Plan B goes into operation and will be implemented while I still have sufficient lucidity to make it happen. And if I have to justify that choice as I stand before the Mercy Seat, I’ll remind my Creator of the needless years of emotional pain and unjustifiable expense I will have saved my dearly loved ones. I’ll pay the price, if I must, to spare them that grievous cost. Know this: No power on earth or in heaven will deprive me of my right to make that choice.

  • p sands

    I haven’t seen an update, did she die? I think not. I’m not trying to be rude nor insensitive, but it seems that even seriously ill people try to get in the news or on the web for attention. So sad. I’ve been battling cancer for 8 years, and would never give up! And, I don’t think she will either, she’s just seeking attention…dying to be in the media. She needs to focus on her healing and her GOD, not Yahoo & Google!