“Dying with Dignity”: thoughts on Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard“What do you think of this?” was all my friend wrote me in a private Facebook message with an attachment of an article about a young woman, Brittany Maynard, who has stage 4 brain cancer. Brittany’s doctors gave her 6 months to live and she decided to beat the cancer by ending her own life with the help of prescribed medication.

After a quick response he then asked me what he always asks me about these sorts of things: “Will God be mad at her?” For some reason this friend has chosen me as the ‘go-to-answer-guy’ for all things religious. He tends to use discussion as way of working through his frustrations with God, or at least his ideas about God, and I always oblige since his questioning usually challenges me a great deal.

The question is really a basic one: does God condemn those who commit suicide?

I’ll say here what I said to him, “I don’t know.” I say that not because the Orthodox Church does not have a stance on the issue, but because the issue is multifaceted not lending itself to drive-by judgments. For those interested in the Orthodox treatment of suicide see this excellent article.

But, if I could stray a bit from my friend’s original question, I found something much more interesting in the story. What does it mean to “Die with Dignity?”

The young woman gives the impression that dying in pain and suffering is to die undignified. The article celebrates her for living a “fearless life,” as evidenced by running half marathons and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. No doubt these things required massive amounts of pain and suffering to accomplish. But when the attention is turned to dying, pain and suffering somehow become undignified.

Is this true?

I like Fr. Andrew Damick’s thoughts on the same article noting Nelson Mandela’s unjust imprisonment as something that spoke a “powerful message of human worth” due to the fact that he endured it with patience. He left prison with a dignity that could never be matched had he not endured what he did.

I also think of my hero in the field of psychology, Viktor Frankl, and his 3 years of experience in Nazi death camps. He taught the world that people often cannot change the predicaments they find ourselves in, but “what matters is the stand they take—a stand which allows for transmuting their predicament into achievement, triumph, and heroism” (The Will to Meaning). He famously taught that meaning is unconditional and “neither suffering nor dying can detract from it.”

I also think of the innumerable examples of heroism with which Christian saints and martyrs faced down their final moments under some of the most extreme suffering and tortures imaginable.

IgnatiusSt. Ignatius of Antioch, imprisoned and in route to Rome where he was sentenced to die by wild beasts in the Colosseum wrote, “No power, visible or invisible, must grudge me my coming to Jesus Christ. Fire, cross, beast-fighting, hacking and quartering, splintering of bone and mangling of limb, even the pulverizing of my entire body – let every horrid and diabolical torment come upon me, provided only that I can win my way to Jesus Christ!”

Not only did he not attempt to avert his impending fate, he charged towards it with courage unspeakable. Writing to the Christians in Rome who were attempting to have him released he said, “I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am His wheat, ground fine by the lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ. Better still, incite the creatures to become a sepulchre for me; let them not leave the smallest scrap of my flesh, so that I need not be a burden to anyone after I fall asleep. When there is no trace of my body left for the world to see, then I shall truly be Jesus Christ’s disciple.”

Am I trying to equate stage 4 cancer with imprisonment or Christian martyrdom? No. I am attempting to show that pain and suffering in the dying process need not be equated with an undignified death. And I am not totally ignorant on the matter. I recently finished a counseling internship at a cancer treatment hospital where daily I witnessed stage 4 cancer patients and their families in very dire circumstances. I stood by their bedside as they fought the disease to their last breath. Many of them were terrified of the process and if given the choice that Brittney had some may have taken it. But many more faced down the suffering and impending death with saint-like resolve. Their memory haunts the deepest part of my affection and, without their knowing it, they continuously kindle in me courage to face my own mortality and frailty.

If I had the chance to counsel Brittany Maynard I would encourage her to find meaning in her fight with cancer; to find dignity not in her power to choose when and how to die, but in dying well—by accepting her fight with cancer as she accepted her fight with Mt. Kilimanjaro. Dying with ease is no more dignified then going up the mountain on a ski lift.

Just some thoughts. Thanks for reading.

(*This article can now be found on Relevant Magazine online)

79 thoughts on ““Dying with Dignity”: thoughts on Brittany Maynard

  1. Father, it’s not her suicide that troubles me as much as the fact that assisted suicide may become the law of the land in every state. It is obvious how that fares from an religious standpoint but what about from a societal standpoint? Who makes that decision for a person who is alone or is poor? Will the medical community be quick to euthanize rather than treat to save costs? We have no regard for life as it is. Allowing a law to regulate death is the last thing we need.

    • Linda, some great points. I don’t know what the solution is as far as society goes. I truly believe a person should have the right to decide how they die. Our society in America is very odd in their orientation towards death in general, so the answer is probably a long way off. But this article is primarily interested with the question of whether or not pain and suffering in death is to be equated with indignity.

      Oh, and just so you give me no praise that I am not worthy of, I am not a priest. 🙂

  2. I like the statements you made concerning dignity/indignity in death. As to having the “right” to decide how we die, I would point people to the fact that this God Created universe, is “His” plan, not ours. We can choose to live within the tenants of His Holy Word, or we can, because of free will, decide otherwise. Either way, we live eternally with the choices we make. Whether it’s “our” society, or another makes no difference.

  3. Pingback: A muri cu demnitate – Gânduri despre renunțarea în fața cancerului | Averea Bisericii

  4. I am actually kind of struggling with this. When I first heard of this news of this womens choice to end her terminally ill life I was astounded and actually kind of hurt that my facebook wall was flooded with christian women and men condemning her and lashing out at her and saying she was committing murder and she will spend eternity in hell for her choice and all this other stuff. I immediately went towards the compassionate side I guess because I have been at the bedside of my grandmother and witnessed her gasping for breath and crying out for pain meds in hospice which legally she was maxed out in dosage. Anymore then nurse could of gotten sued, or license taken away or jail time for “killing” a patient that was already in the dying process. I am so against suicide. Life is a beautiful precious gift from our Creator from our first to last breath. I know what the scripture says on murder and I am a follower of Jesus, but I am struggling with all of this. I feel that in those rare extreme cases as terminal brain cancer and everything that she will go through in those last few days and hours that she should have a choice to not have to endure all that pain and suffering and maybe its hard for me to separate it from a clinical view. I feel the term dignity is being being loosely thrown around when it means respect. Should the dying not have respect for their decisions? I have prayed and asking the holy spirit to reveal to me if I am in the wrong in my thinking and still cant find a peace with it. I still feel it should be ok. Help me to understand?

    • Hey Corey, thanks for your post. First off, you may want to get some new Facebook friends. 🙂 Those are terrible things to say about a situation that probably the majority of them have no real world conception of. I’d refer you back to the Orthodox link in the article about suicide. I think it explains where the Church has historically stood on the issue, and its not cut and dry.

      Second, I wonder if the source of your “struggle” has to do with your own thoughts of mortality and creatureliness. Death and suffering are highly taboo subjects in our society. As a result few of us have a working relationship with death and suffering, as almost every other human being has had in history before us. I think you should take the thought into your own life and let it mess with you personally rather than on a larger, abstract plane. I’m sure the Holy Spirit has much to lead you in on this, but that might only happen once you internalize your own impending death and suffering and make sense of it.

      Not sure if that helps but it’s the best I have. 🙂

  5. I think it only makes sense when ‘Dignity with Dying’ is used as a short title/phrase referring to people wanting to end their life without stigma, but with the dignity that comes from being ‘free’ to make ones own decision about this matter regardless of religious belief? (In the same way that you Eric do believe). They used to write on death certificates something like ‘Suicide, while of unsound mind’, i hope that has ended these days.

  6. Stumbled upon this blog.Anyway let me throw in my view.First and foremost passing judgement to other people is bad.expecially if they are suffering.The christian bandwagon has really been nasty to her in social media.’suicide is a short cut to hell’.’She will burn in hell according to scripture.’etc.I leave in kenya where attempting to die in dignity would lead to beatings from the wider public.After that you can be jailed for assuming your life belongs to you.I hope she die’s on november 1,smelling good,with sound mind,and her family on her bed side.Maybe this act would not only help the other american states but the world at large.Death with dignity is not suicide its free will.

    • Amani, indeed there have been some terrible things said by some Christians over this. But speaking of judgment, isn’t the whole premise that to die with dignity is to die without suffering a slap in the face judgment on all those who have died with suffering?

  7. We were talking about this in class. I’m not sure I’d take the same route that as Brittany Maynard if I were in her position, but I’d want to at least leave a lasting legacy before I go. That’s all we can hope for, right? A legacy that outlasts us (and preferably a positive one).

  8. Wow, heavy stuff. I hope I will not be in the cancer saga. It would be nice if there was a cure in our lifetime. Too many are dying too long. Thanks for sharing this insightful post.

  9. Die well. It resonates in my mind. I would rather die as a brave soul in the day God set aside for me. If my uncle who passed away three weeks ago could muster the courage to die well then I can too. That will be my choice if I ever face the prospects. Prayers be with Brittany and may God shine his wisdom and grace on her.

  10. Of course, no one wants to die a painful and difficult death. I think comparing dying to running a marathon doesn’t really work. A marathon requires will and strength, but at the end you have achieved a goal and can celebrate your achievement. At the end of dying, you are dead. I also don’t think anyone who hasn’t either suffered from cancer or watched someone they love suffer from cancer, has the right to an opinion. Brittany Maynard is thinking not just of sparing herself suffering (the romanticism of martyrdom might look very different when you’re staring it in the face) but also of sparing her family from watching her suffer. The endpoint is inevitable, so there isn’t a life or death choice. There is only the choice of how it will occur. The dignity is in still having a choice.

    • Lindsey, I’m glad you mentioned this: “The dignity is in still having a choice.” I couldn’t agree more. The conflict I have with the “death with dignity” movement is the nuanced idea that only a comfortable, pain and suffering free death are to be accounted as dignified. This is a terrible implicit judgment on all who have and will suffer such endings.

  11. I totally agree with you on this issue. To me, her impending suicide-and that is exactly what it is- is not something to be celebrated. She is not fighting for her life, she is simply giving up. I have a friend who has had all types of cancer- something like 8 times. Her faith is what has sustained her. Her previous bout with cancer she was told she would die, yet she lived, and now she is fighting it once again- and winning! Our life is not our own to take. I can only assume Mrs. Maynard has no faith, for a person with faith has much to fight for. Dr.’s make mistakes, prognosis are wrong, God makes the final call. There is dignity in a fight well fought.

    • People without faith also have much to fight for, maybe even more so since we have no “hope” of an afterlife. What is here on this earth, in this lifetime, is it. Yes, maybe she is giving up. Or maybe she is being realistic about her prognosis and is making her choice before she is no longer able to make any choices. Why force her to suffer when she clearly doesn’t want to? She has the support of her family and friends. No one wants her to die, but they accept that she’d die anyways. My last memory of one of my family members passing is not a beautiful one, and one I wish I could have avoided. But g-gramma chose her own course of action long before her mind left her, and I respect her choices. I don’t think any way of dying necessarily has less dignity, but I do believe that if you’re of a sound mind, understand how final this action is, and have the support of your loved ones, you can make that choice. There is dignity in making a decision that is the best in your individual circumstance. There is dignity in knowing when to make that call, in knowing that extreme suffering doesn’t need to be endured to have a well-lived and fulfilling life.

  12. I am an 18 year cancer survivor. If anyone can sympathize, I have been there. I have been at the place where I should now be dead but here I am. I have nothing judgmental to say her Brittany. If she were here, I would give her a big hug and tell her I understand because I really do. But where she has no hope, I have hope for every single day, hope through the pain, and hope in peace after death. I do not mean to advertise, but this is my story and I share it on beautifullifewithcancer.com I do not think she sees the beauty in her life anymore.

  13. It would be so helpful if God could just clarify once and for all whether he’s cool with suicide or if he’s going to condemn these souls to eternal hell for their crime. The people at Dignitas probably think they’re helping these people with terminal illnesses to die peacefully surrounded by loved ones, but it would be such a shame to find out that it is going to be judged harshly.
    Maybe He could add like a Bible footnote. Life is so confusing.

  14. People can argue this ’til the cows come home, but Brittany has the right to decide how she will die. As does everyone. People have the right to define “dignified death” for themselves. If someone wants to fight until the last breath, then I support their right to do so. If someone else wants to check out before that point, why shouldn’t their rights be respected as well? I watched my sister die of cancer. There was no quality of life in her last few days. I wish she had been offered a peaceful death. It’s what I want. We offer it to our pets. I simply don’t understand why those of us who prefer not to suffer are somehow considered “less than” because we can’t relate to, and do not want to participate in, the whole martyr thing? Furthermore, just because people are granted this right, doesn’t mean there will be death squads roaming the streets looking for people to kill. That’s just melodrama. Listen. People already have the right to die the way they choose. It’s called suicide, and if someone wants to exercise that right there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. All this does is enable a person contemplating suicide to die a little more peacefully, with a little more finesse. As far as the afterlife is concerned, no one knows what happens when we die, NO ONE, so why obsess about it?

  15. It was nice to read this. You should see an Indian movie titled “Guzarish” or read about it online. After watching that movie I believed that some people must be granted that wish of dying. It can be a very tricky thing though.

    Two out of my four grandparents, died after being bed-ridden for a couple of years. It is tough for them and for the care takers. What kept them alive were medicines. If not for modern medicines, they would have died a few years earlier!! Would not giving medicine amount to crime??

    For a lot of people in a lot of countries, it is better to die and try to keep them alive. I have seen my house maid sell all her jewelry to keep her sister in a hospital battling life. By the time she died, this sister taking care of her was bankrupt. (The whole process was about 3 to 4 months) I sincerely feel that, she must have been left to die rather than being taken for treatment.

  16. This was a very thought-provoking read. From what I know of Ms. Murphy’s story, I’m not sure that the reason for her decision is that “dying in pain and suffering is to die undignified”. I understand it more as, in the reality that her life will be ending sooner rather than later, taking control of how she dies, rather than enduring an uncertain and possibly very difficult process. I think the “dignity” lies in her having the ability to make that choice, rather than in whatever condition she is in when she passes away. It may not be the choice that everyone would make, but I think she deserves respect for her decision. From what I have read, she has been very clear that she is not necessarily encouraging others to make the same choice, but that she would like people to at least have the opportunity to choose.

  17. Thanks for your sharing. One thing I believe, even cancer cell has to begin from a form – in my case, I do not believe there is no creator, n that a form can exist from a ‘bang’. If God or the world’s creator put it in a person’s life’s path, it has a meaning for that person. ….. yet, it is graceful given to each of us, a choice. I always believe too that suffering from a terminal illness is hard to understand except the patient……

  18. For some people dying is a messy and very painful thing. To avoid the mess and pain and to be in CONTROL of the situation why not check out early? Another thing.. if God is such a loving and forgiving being why can’t he forgive us for suicide AFTER we are dead. I would think killing another person is much more of a “sin” than killing oneself when in much pain.

  19. I had a relative in Europe who was given, only quasi-legally, rather a lot of pain medication to be kept in a safe place against whatever future need might arise; take one if in a great deal of pain, take many if the pain is unendurable. She kept this bottle for at least a decade, untouched, and died well past her hundredth birthday. I offer this to show the context my comments arise from, and also to suggest that having the option is not the same as exercising it.

    Looking at the examples you give of people who did not give in, I’m not sure the parallels are quite there. The survivor of a Nazi camp might persist in living because dying is what the captors want, or because there is the deep and carefully tended flame of hope that one day captors will fall. Either way, most of the nobility of endurance arises from having survived. The brain cancer victim doesn’t have this possibility, and since her captor is her own body (or, in a particularly grim approach to the matter, her creator) defiance until the inevitable fall brings with it an inevitable squalor. There’s no outside agency to blame for that squalor; it’s entirely passive tense, with pain being inflicted and humiliations heaped by no one and nothing except fate.

    In the case of the martyrs, the hope of escape is certainly also absent, but there’s still the presence of the captors, the antagonists, and the choice to accept the fate those others are imposing is taken to underline the wrongness of their stance. “They do this to oppose my faith, and I will show them their folly in how I endure what they do, and show those who share my faith a good example,” which is a very admirable stance, but it still has a THEY in it; the active external agency of the death. Choosing to hurl yourself at the lions someone has set upon you has a different flavour than choosing to lie quietly in a bed while your body devours itself, if for no other reason than the unendurable ugly final moments are indeed moments rather than the days or even weeks waiting for cancer to finish its work.

    It is, I’ll admit, a lot closer, given the inevitable end and the possibility of setting a good example to others about how to face pain and inevitability. But there’s still this matter of choice. St. Ignatius chose to approach the beasts as he did, and that’s good. Someone looking at death by cancer might do the same, and that’s good too. But that someone, even if they’ve scaled mountains, might also look at road ahead and say, “That’s too rough. I can’t handle that. I don’t want their last memory of me to be that thing wriggling in the web of medical equipment,” and that’s good as well. At that point, forcing them onto the road is the removal of the choice, a denial of their will in the matter. If the nobility in facing death comes from how it is faced, then choosing to face it slightly ahead of the schedule of a disease can be just as dignified as “going down swinging.”

    As you say, just some thoughts.

    • Excellent thoughts. I really don’t disagree with any of it. As I mentioned, the parallels were not meant to equate the two – martyrdom and cancer – but rather to reveal an underlying principle at the heart of the “death with dignity” mantra, that is: pain and suffering need not be the equated with an undignified death. Meaning and purpose can be found in all situations one finds him/herself in without their choosing, at least this was the conviction of Viktor Frankl, a world renown psychiatrist and survivor of 3 years in 4 different Nazi death camps. I believe there is a great amount of dignity to be found simply in having the choice of how one wants to die. That, for me, is beside the point. The point is that a dignified death has to do with “meaning” not with suffering or no suffering. This article is an invitation to stare at death with perhaps new lenses on for those who have never crossed this psychological terrain.

  20. I think the fact that she wants to die on her terms and not the cancer is the point. To spare those around her of watching her suffer is really her ultimate goal. Can’t imagine what the family is going through.

  21. Like most people my ideal death would be to close my eyes in my own bed and cross over to the other side peacefully. But life – and death – is a messy affair and the American way of death made even messier keeping our bodies alive through medical advances that didn’t exist in the past. In my mid sixties I reflect on the possible years ahead knowing that my time is growing shorter. I have made plans should I be felled by an incurable illness. I will undergo traditional treatment however, when I cross the line to a certain death (as certain as we can be) then I will accept that my time is near. At that point I will embrace palliative care and with God’s grace see the faces of my family around me before I close my eyes for the last time. Romanticized? No, I watched my step-father die as we sat by his bedside during his last days. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was shocking despite the fact by that point he was beyond pain and consciousness as we understand it. But undignified? I would.have to say no. There is no lack of dignity in a natural death. Even a death that ends with pain. Life itself is filled with pain interspersed with joys. Why would we expect more from it’s ending? I do not judge this girl for her choice to end her own life. Quite frankly, despite the Catholic Churches teachings, I do not believe God will judge her either. Instead of debating whether heaven or hell (or nothing) awaits her, perhaps our time would be better spent offering her the compassion that God shows to each of us every day.

  22. This story made me refer to an instant in my life.

    My cat had been hit by a car and badly injured, also my auntie was in hospital dying (without grace) of terminal cancer.

    The cat was sedated, put down with us all around to comfort him because it was the ‘right’ thing to do. Why isn’t this the case with humans? We don’t allow animals to suffer but for humans, they are made to wait it out? My aunt on the other hand was made to lay and deteriorate for weeks longer than she should have.

    It’s crazy to me!

    Humans should be allowed to end their life in a graceful way and surrounded by family, not to be chastised by men in suits.

  23. My mother died 7 weeks ago and I have to say she died a dignified death. She was 87 and chose to not to have any treatment for her cancer. It was her last act of will. Treatment might have lengthened her life a bit, but she would have been miserable. She chose not to go out fighting, but to go with grace and dignity and the strength of acceptance.

  24. Reblogged this on Humble-Berry Pie and commented:
    It seems like she thinks this is the most dignified form of suicide, I still don’t like that she’s taking her self/life away from her loved ones. I would think it would be most important to be with them as long as possible. What if she was able to live much longer than 6 months?

  25. These are really good thoughts and comments. I don’t know what I think. I do know that MANY hospice patients are sent home with kits that contain a lot of narcotic pain medications and we just don’t know how many deaths are related to medications, and how many are actually the disease. I don’t think the concern is that people will all be running to get this medication as an out….there are plenty of choices to do that. These decisions are made over a long period of time with lots of consultations and support of the family. Its not the “easy” way out. Cancer already won in this case. Its such a sad, painful story.

    • My prayers to you and the families of your friend. May the God of grace comfort you and their families and may God grant your friends a place of brightness, a place of verdue, a place of repose where all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.

  26. There is a really cool version of Cat Steven’s ‘Oh Very Young’ made in 1969 and had Shirley McClain in it. Beautiful music and a truly exotic video. I believe that girl has a right to go out on her own terms. My friend is now at 140. He was close to 200. I speak to him each day.

  27. I agree with most of your points but I would like to ask if you think it is necessary she go through the pain and suffering? Is she less of a person because she chooses not to go through this stage of her life?

    • Hello audaciouslyawkward,

      I would answer no to both of your questions. My position is not that she must go through the pain and if she doesn’t she is less of a person, but rather that she can choose to go through the pain and be just as dignified – if not more so – than if she chose to not go through the pain. My issue is with the implication that to die with pain and suffering is equivalent to dying undignified.

      This may seem like a benign point on the surface but when you dig into the “Death with Dignity” movement, you find that this is a very prominent message. Take this quote from a blog posted on the Death with Dignity website (http://www.deathwithdignity.org/2014/10/14/never-say-die-why-cant-we-embrace-lifes-most-inevitable-fact-that-it-will-end):

      “She is a brave woman—not because she is “committing suicide,” but because she is refusing to commit an even greater sin: the sin of living by default, and letting life just do with her what it will. Yes, life has value. But so does a roaring heart.”

      They understand dying the way nature dictates as committing “an even greater sin” than suicide. That is a severe judgment on all those who choose to die naturally.

      In short, the dignity lies in the meaning one brings to their death, regardless of suffering or no suffering.

  28. I watched this story on the news outlets for days. I believe if this is truly what she wants…why not. Yes it will be hard for her family to see her go but I believe it would be even harder to watch her suffer. I almost lost my mom last November to a random brain tumor the size of a baseball. What the doctors called a meningioma. She is now recovering and we don’t take any aspect of life for granted. I think GOOD FOR YOU BRITTANY.

  29. I believe there are many things in life that society and religions shouldn’t have the right to condemn. They can do as they choose for themselves, but as for others, they have no right to interfere. If it was Brittany’s choice to take control of when she will die then that is her personal choice.

    I liked what Dr. Kevorkian’s former lawyer said in an interview. He stated that, by having the option to take her own life it gives her a sense of control over something (cancer) she has not control over. He believed she wouldn’t go through with taking her own life but the option to feel some control over her life could allow her to live her last days free of feeling of no control over her life. It could give her a better quality of life in her last days.

    With that said, now that she has died, I feel a sense of sorrow in her passing. I’m sure this is normal. After hearing the lawyer’s thoughts, I had hoped she would simply pass away in her sleep naturally. At the same time, I still agree with idea of a terminally ill person having control over when they die. I watched my mother die a terrible death due to lung cancer as she begged to die. She would have been one who would have taken her own life rather than suffer as she did. She actually asked for assisted suicide but was refused.

    I myself don’t find that sort of suffering as something I would want to experience. I didn’t find an dignity in it at all. Dignity is a subjective word and each of us define it differently. Was my mother a coward, not wanting to die in a hospital bed, heavily sedated by morphine? Or, should she have had the right to die the way she wanted to die, at home in her own bed, surrounded by her loved ones?

    It is something that we each have to ask ourselves personally, not as a society. Still, I feel sorrow for the death of Brittany, not because she took her own life, but that she was a beautiful and courageous person. A person so filled with life who was taken early from this life by cancer. I know I would have felt the same sorrow if she had died peacefully in her sleep, without using the medication. She did for herself what she believed was right for her. For this she should not be condemned nor should it say to everyone that they should do the same if they are in the same situation. It is a personal choice which I support completely.

  30. Pingback: Dying With Dignity : Why Euthanasia should be legalized? | The Bangali Angle

  31. Interesting article but with respect, I’d like to interject some personal thoughts based on my experiences and research.

    I read through the Brittany Maynard situation quite thoroughly as I was interested. I work in a nursing home with the sick and dying and words cannot describe the agony that becomes of these people with diseases. The ones that can talk would like to die. Just so you know, nursing homes aren’t all geriatrics anymore. We’ve has individuals from the age of 26-40 recently.

    Brittany did her research on her disease before making a decision. She even had surgery to have the tumor removed and it came back larger. Treatment would have prolonged her life- also noting she’d experience side effects not only from chemotherapy but from the cancer itself i.e. seizures, migrains, which heavily debilitate the quality of ones life. I cannot make everyone’s decisions for them but I understand her wanting to live out what time she had left quality-wise verses quantity-wise bedridden, hospitalized, and in pain. I’m sure she didn’t make this decision easily.

    Had there been a fight worth having- I think she would have done it.

    • I hear you, and agree with your basic sentiment. My issue is not so much with whether or not Brittany should have killed herself. As I said in the article, I am no stranger to people with stage 4 cancer fighting with their last breath. I have unending sympathy for her situation and fully understand why she would choose what she did. Furthermore, I wholly support a person’s right to have the choice to die how they want. My concern is with the nuance of dying with dignity being equated with an absence of pain and suffering.

  32. Reblogged this on These Days Under The Sun and commented:
    “For someone who hasn’t experienced the pain that Brittany Maynard is facing, the choice to end her own suffering is impossible to comprehend. But the choice shouldn’t be framed as one of either suffering or dignity. This is a false dichotomy. Suffering can’t rob of us our dignity, because dignity isn’t tied to pain or even circumstance. It’s a quality inherent to lives created in the image of God. Brittany Maynard’s situation represents an issue that Christians should approach with grace and understanding, but also with the understanding that dignity of all human life isn’t based on presence or absence of suffering. It’s based on being fearfully and wonderfully made by God who knows our suffering intimately.”-Eric Hyde, author of shared article

    It is by now, common knowledge that Mrs. Maynard did indeed choose to end her life this past weekend. My heart breaks for any pain or anguish she endured, and for the loss experienced by so many who loved her deeply. My prayers are with them all. I guess I should no longer be surprised by the bitter and indeed, HATE-filled backlash of professing people of faith in the various threads that have been posted to social media. I would just like to know how it is possible for one to arrive at their conclusions so easily. We reduce God, and indeed misrepresent Him when we pass judgment so swiftly on others. Because I subscribe to a consistent ethic of life as an Orthodox Christian, it means I am staunchly pro-life and anti-death FOR ALL. That’s right. It is completely unacceptable in my view for anyone to take the life of another, or end their own life. My faith in God teaches me that the sanctity of life extends to all, and that because we are made in His image, we have no right to take the life of others or ourselves. That applies to the unborn, the terminally illy, and the condemned prisoner on death row. (That’s right. I don’t support capital punishment. It makes zero sense to me. The Bishop of my Metropolis recently pointed out this skewed thinking/hypocrisy. We are the only nation in the developed world who still supports this; the great irony being that those who often support it also loudly assert that we are largely a Christian nation. I don’t see how Christianity and death can coexist. They can’t. Christ himself overcame death. Who are we to accept otherwise? When my Bishop recently stated this on his visit to my parish, I wanted to stand and slow-clap, but that is not proper conduct during Divine Liturgy. Nevertheless, it needed to be said. I am grateful to have religious leaders who can speak hard truths with love and grace at the core of the message.) In addition to serving a great God of love, grace, and peace, I serve a God of mystery. His ways are indeed higher than mine(Isaiah 55:8-9), and thank GOD for that! To me, there is great solace in not always having the answers. I am at peace in saying, “This is a mystery.” Isn’t grace itself a mystery? If we attempt to explain it, its beauty is lost. My prayers are with the Maynards. I hope your prayers (and not your judgment) are, too. Grace, peace, and love to all.

  33. My brother committed suicide in 2011 – he was a 29 year old Christian which almost seems like a contradiction of terms. My husband’s grandma who is old school Roman Catholic told me within a day of his death that he was damned to hell. So here’s my take on it: Yes, it is sinful. But I do not know if it is an unforgivable sin. The God I serve searches the heart, knows all of our struggles and has our days numbered. He knew before this woman was even a thought what her life would be. I also believe that just like in the story of Job that everything has to go through His hands. This is the article/blog post my church has written on the subject that really helped me through my brother’s death.

  34. Well said brother, I recently had to write a persuasive essay on this subject; well legalizing it anyway…it was really challenging. In the end after all my research I decided against it. That is definately not a road we want to take. Your point on the dignity in death was very well said and I agree. God Bless.

  35. Powerful post. It certainly makes you think… I have mixed feelings about it. After watching my Mum die from cancer and knowing she only had months to live was heart breaking. She fought as long and hard as she could knowing it was a battle she would lose.

    As for those who condemn her actions at the end of the day, it was her life.

  36. I’m sorry but I don’t agree with you. Dying with dignity, in the case of cancer patients, has more to it than just dealing with pain and suffering. In fact, pain and suffering is just a tiny part of what these people go through. These people lose complete control over their bodies and have to watch their loved ones try to come to terms with what is happening to them. They go from being independent, loving and caring human beings to something akin to a vegetable – having no control over their actions, short of temper and sometimes even lose their ability to communicate how they feel. The worst part is that not only do they feel themselves changing and having no control over it but having to see their loved ones live through it. Indignity is in having no control over your bowels and then having to watch someone you love clean up after you.

    I don’t think anyone has the right to judge people in thus situation. And I also don’t think that anyone who hasn’t lived through it themselves or has had someone very close to them live through it has any right to comment on it. It’s their life and no one else has the right to talk, let alone pass judgement, on how they want to live it.

    • Manasa, thank you for your post. Let me clear up a few points that seems to have been lost in translation: (1) my article is not a piece which judges anyone, it merely asks a question concerning the nuanced idea that to die with pain and suffering is somehow to be judged as undignified – thereby passing terrible judgement on all who have died in pain and suffering, (2) everything you mentioned as a side-effect of cancer I would label as either pain or suffering or both, thus, it is not “more” than pain and suffering – apply these terms both physically and emotionally and they cover the gamut, (3) I am not a cold, distant observer. I worked directly with stage 3 and 4 cancer patients and their families as part of my mental health counseling internship. I watched every imaginable type of pain and suffering and held hands with those who suffered through every part of it, both patients and family members.

  37. Dignity has nothing to do with how others treat us or with what our circumstances may be, it is not an external thing applied. Dignity is within the individual, it is in our attitude and outlook, not in how we are treated or in our circumstances, but in our attitude to them.

    The term “death with dignity” refers to facing death with a dignified attitude, one that is worthy, regardless of how death comes.

    As many years a previous hospice nurse I have seen hundreds die. I have seen that a dignified death is within the individual, in how they face their circumstances and approach their death, it is not in the circumstances or conditions of their death.

    The euthanasia debate and abortion debate are both surface debates that underneath are discussions about the purpose and meaning of life. Many people would not discuss life’s purpose or meaning but will do so when it is dressed as the euthanasia or abortion debates. One day, when or if we collectively come to know the purpose of our living, then we will have the answer to these debates on abortion and euthanasia. In the meantime, let these debates roll on, for in essence they enable people who might not otherwise, to discuss and wonder about the purpose of our existence. And that exercise can stretch our capacity a little.

    • Crossbow, thank you for your incredibly thoughtful response. My hat is off to hospice nurses. I had no idea the sort of internal struggle one must (or should) encounter when working with end-of-life care until I worked at a cancer treatment hospital. You sound as if the experience gave you wisdom about these matters that most will forever set you apart from the common person.

      Glad to have you on. Cheers.

    • It was six years of wonderful lessons and learning. In a sense, yes it set me apart, and in another sense it joined me better with others. I think true learning does that, develops us as individuals and at the same time provides us understanding of life and the human condition and improves our ability to relate to others. But every job and situation has its life lessons. I have learnt different lessons but just as significant from other jobs and situations, and it all fits together and builds up, as parts of the great picture. I think life is for the learning, even the little incidents.

      “What is the lesson here?” asked in head and heart, and see what insight comes.
      Or, “What is the teaching?”.

      By the way, I like your blog. I intend to drop in now and then.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s