*Trigger warning for suicide, physician-assisted suicide, or death.*
Death is a very sensitive thing—despite us all inevitably experiencing it. I want to be very careful and note that I am not encouraging suicide. My situation is notably different from Brittany Maynard’s, the 29-year-old woman with terminal cancer who made public plans to end her life.
My position is not terribly dogmatic. I will not say, despite the diametric nature of pro/con, that any potential con argument in this matter is absolutely wrong. That said, I understand why people would argue that someone should have the right to decide how they die.
Like I said before, we all die. And, some of us face pretty morbid circumstances ahead of us or in our midst. Having the right to die, having the right to consider how one wants to die, and possibly acting upon that can serve two functions: 1) eliminate future pain and suffering (because I honestly don’t believe in hell after death, which implies at least ostensibly that there is no pain after death) and 2) exercise control over one’s life, at least to a certain degree.
People consider suicide because they feel that they cannot change their circumstances, or the effort required to change those circumstances are virtually insurmountable. This is precisely why, in my opinion, medical research and universal healthcare are so necessary. This is also why social justice is so necessary. For example, in a society where existing as a trans woman is completely marginalized, stigmatized and demonized, the obstacles I face without justice are seemingly insurmountable. And I cannot imagine people who suffer the evils of racism or capitalism or ableism.
Albert Camus wrote in “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “There is only one really serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.”
I hope that everyone’s life is worth living, but since I do not live anyone else’s life, that is not for me (or anyone else) to decide. And in the case of Brittany Maynard, as public as she makes her decision, I do not believe it to be our place to police her decisions. We should listen to what she has to say.
If you are contemplating suicide or suffer seemingly insurmountable obstacles, please talk to a close friend or family member or trusted peer/professor. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.imalive.org.
Hearing the news was a gut-wrenching experience. I wish that day never happened and that it were just a nightmare.
Most of all, I wish it had been me.
Finding out my cousin, Jonny, had stage four glioblastoma, the most fatal form of brain cancer, replays in my mind to this day. It was impossible to hear that my then-24-year-old cousin, the tall, skinny, funny kid I grew up playing Uno with, had cancer. It was hard to believe that he was battling cancer as he continued to smile and laugh and live despite his diagnosis. And I thought that maybe my ears were deceiving me when I heard the news that he was cured. I thank God that Jonny is alive and doing well today, nearly 19 months after that day.
So, as I read about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who had the same form of brain cancer as Jonny had, I was distraught to hear she did not want to live any longer.
Assisted suicide is not a choice we should offer because of its dangerous implications. The state of Oregon has certain restrictions in the Death With Dignity Act, requiring that patients who choose to die by assisted suicide be 18-year-old Oregon residents who have terminal illnesses, have made multiple requests that would allow them to take the medication in no less than 15 days and are judged as being “capable of making and communicating health care decisions” for themselves.
However, what happens when they change their minds? At one point, Maynard had second thoughts about the decision she was going to make. Fifteen days is not long, certainly not enough to make this permanent, unalterable choice. Also, people who have mental handicaps are disadvantaged. If they are offered this choice but are unable to effectively make it, is this not unjust? The patient’s ability to make this decision is determined by the individual physician, who may misjudge. Additionally, the WMA International Code of Medical Ethics states, “A physician shall always bear in mind the obligation to respect human life.” Does providing a patient with lethal medication not betray this duty?
I remember my family’s fear and uncertainty about Jonny’s diagnosis, but I also remember how he accepted his circumstances. His words still echo in my ears: “It is what it is.” Instead of wallowing, he continued to live, hiking with his friends, getting outside and staying active. Of course, when he had cancer, it was far from easy. His speech was confused. He could not move the right side of his body. He underwent radiation therapy and visited his doctor for frequent MRIs, and the entire time, he wondered how long he had to live. Even now, his cancer will most likely return, and this time, it will probably kill him. Yet, I remember how even in Jonny’s darkest hour, he reminded me life is always worth it because we can always have hope. We can let hope breathe life into us until the moment we die. Ultimately, even when the end is certain, we can die knowing our hope helped sustain us as we continued to live completely and hopefully despite our circumstances.
Because of this, I plead that we would fight for, not against, people like Maynard. We should fight for those who have so much to live for regardless of how their stories may end, and therefore we should not offer assisted suicide as a legal choice. Perhaps we should reconsider the notion of “dying with dignity.”
Does dignity hinge upon how we die or how we live?
Death will come eventually for everyone, but right now, let us seize the right to life.
Sources: nydailynews.com, public.health.oregon.gov, usatoday.com, wma.net