Multiple reports now seem to confirm that Oregon cancer patient Brittany Maynard has followed through on her previously detailed plan and taken her own life this weekend. As to her specific circumstances, I pray that she may rest in peace and that her family find healing and solace.
In other circumstances, that might be the end of the discussion, as her personal situation and the struggles of her family are theirs alone and they should have some expectation of privacy. But Maynard made another choice beyond her decision to seek an end to her suffering, putting herself forward as a spokesperson for the issue of the right to choose one’s own hour of death rather than riding out a crippling, terminal disease. Having done so, she invites a national discussion of the topic.
I have heard some impassioned arguments against physician assisted suicide, as well as support for the right to choose. When I wrote about Brittany’s case last month, many of our readers weighed in raising a variety of concerns, only a few of which I’ll address today. (For those who missed that discussion, definitely read through those comments. Our readers tend to build a thoughtful study on such things.) It remains a sobering discussion to this day.
One commonly mentioned item – and a very valid one – is that we should be careful not to conflate assisted suicide (as was the case here) with the question of Do Not Resuscitate orders and excessive “heroic measures” to bring back those who have slipped beyond our grasp. This is something I may have unwittingly done, and clearly should not have.They are indeed two separate things, and the key feature which distinguishes them is that one involves extraordinary measure to delay a death which is imminent through natural causes while the other is a conscious choice to forcefully terminate a life which would continue for some time without intervention. Put more bluntly, one is suicide by definition while the other is an act of surrendering to the conclusion of events which arrive unbidden.
There is also a question of the decision point participation of the patient versus the family. While the DNR order is initiated in advance, the circumstances when it winds up being invoked are, by definition, generally out of the control of the patient and the family must deal with the resolution. I won’t weigh in too heavily on this debate since I actually have one of these myself and my position should be fairly obvious.
I also read some very emotionally powerful arguments from readers about removing such decisions from God’s hands and taking them into our own. I cannot imagine a more heart rending burden than facing that question, and it is something which people of faith may have to deal with in their final days, each in their own way. There is clearly merit in the point that the suffering of Jesus on the cross sets an example for the faithful, but I would also note that not all mortals are born with His level of strength.
Brittany Maynard has looked into the final portal, made her decision and passed through it. I am not qualified to judge her. I can only once again say that which seems helpless and hollow in such a discussion. May she rest in peace and may her family and friends find solace and healing.