Brittany Maynard took her own life on November 1, 2014. She was 29, married, beautiful, without children and suffering from a stage 4 glioblastoma.
In the last year of her life, she had moved from California to Oregon with her husband (Dan Diaz) and parents in order to use Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” law. In the meantime she checked items off her bucket list. She traveled. She hiked. She made a video that went viral and became a big media story. She saw sights she had missed earlier. She took a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.
And on Saturday, November 1 she took an overdose of barbiturates and slipped off this mortal coil in the presence of her family.
She is gone. Let us say a prayer for Brittany Maynard and for her survivors.
That’s where I would stop if I had nothing else to say. But I have something to say.
A stage 4 glioblastoma is a highly aggressive and lethal form of brain cancer. The majority of patients die within 2 years. Maynard was given 6 months after her diagnosis. This cancer does not kill kindly either. It eats away at the patient’s brain, causing seizures, cognitive problems, emotional changes, memory loss, speech problems, headaches, pain, paralysis, and other problems. Long term survival is extremely rare. But it has happened. It wasn’t going to happen for Ms. Maynard though. Her progress has been dismal, her cancer the most aggressive type there is, and she refused the chemotherapy and radiation that are part of the narrow and perilous path to survival.
Ms. Maynard was soon going to die in agony if she didn’t take this step. Who among us can say they would never do the same? Who would speak ill of their own loved ones who might, given the same circumstances, make the same choice? I didn’t know her, but that doesn’t mean I should be less charitable than I would be to someone I do know. Has a righteous man never chosen a path that would kill him quickly instead of an alternative that would be slow? We have the example of Samson in the affirmative. He slew more Philistines by collapsing that temple on himself than he did in the rest of his life of war against them. Maynard chose a bottle of depressants as her better alternative to a fate worse than death.
That’s a course of action many could see themselves taking.
The problem is with the political structure that has built up around taking one’s own life to prevent a fate worse than death. The problem is with the “Death with Dignity” act, the euthanasia movement behind it, and the damage that turning doctors into licensed killers of their patients does to the medical professions. There is a political movement to advocate for suicide with the assistance of doctors, to be used (1) by the terminally ill and (2) by parents and guardians to those without the capacity (mental or physical) to make the decision for themselves. The first is indeed suicide. The second isn’t, it is homicide. When someone kills another human, not in a state of war, not in self-defense, not accidentally, and not as the legal result of a criminal trial for cause, that is homicide. That’s the problem that is piggybacking on the legitimate sounding request for Death with Dignity. Euthanasia isn’t always suicide, as it was in Ms. Maynard’s case. For instance, this case.
And homicide violates the first and most important right with which we are created: The right to Life.
Underlying the problem is a law that forces this into the realm of the political. Does it really make sense to criminalize suicide? The victim is also the perpetrator, and dead if the intention was carried out effectively. So if suicide actually happens then criminal charges are moot. What will the law do, charge a corpse? But what of attempted suicide? Let’s say a suicide is unsuccessful. Now, there is some therapeutic purpose to a charge. At least the suicidal person can receive therapy. But does it make sense for a failed act to be charged with a crime when a successful act would not? No it doesn’t. It is self-evidently absurd.
Sin is Not Always a Crime. Being bad isn’t always a crime. Some things are terrible, yet they should not be criminal. Free speech can be terrible. But it should not be criminal. The refusal of criminals to confess can be terrible. But it should not be a crime in itself. Suicide is the same way. It is terrible. It is a tragedy. And sometimes it’s a bitter pill that prevents a worse fate. It’s a matter for family and loved ones to deal with and sort out, but not the law. And it is definitely not a thing with which doctors, whose ancient and traditional Hippocratic Oath starts with the words, “first do no harm,” should be involved. Involving doctors in dealing death has tainted the profession. Can anyone trust a doctor who believes in euthanasia to use his or her full skill in order to save their life? Or is there a doubt?
Suicide is one of those issues that should not be a legal issue. If that were cleared up, then “Death with Dignity” would not be needed and doctors and lawyers would not need to get involved.
And that would be a better world for all of us.