If you were told by doctors you have a terminal illness and 6 months to live, would you join the fight to live with a possibility of spending your last days in a hospital slowly watching yourself quickly degenerate or would you like the option to choose to end your life in due time after spending your last days outside of the hospital with friends and family?
Brittany Lauren Maynard (1984-2014) was an American woman with terminal brain cancer, also known as glioblastoma, who decided that she would end her own life when the time seemed right. She was an advocate for the right to choose and partnered with Compassion & Choices to create the Brittany Maynard Fund, which seeks to legalize aid in dying in states where it is now illegal. At the time of Maynard’s death, only three states had death-with-dignity laws, with two others having court rulings protecting physicians who help patients die.
Brittany’s story was reported on major media sources such as CNN where she wrote a piece called “My Right to Death with Dignity at 29″. Her youthfulness & vibrancy pulled the attention of all age groups to a circumstance many struggle when seeking physician assisted. The average age of a terminal illness patient seeking this method is 71 and Brittany’s unique story and personal passion to raise awareness to this issue has greatly helped future patients who want the same choice.
It’s clear this is a highly debatable topic. Three days before Maynard’s death a top Vatican official condemned her decision to die, calling her assisted suicide “an absurdity”. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) claimed that Maynard’s chosen non-profit, Compassion & Choices had “exploited the illness of Brittany Maynard to promote legalization of doctor prescribed suicide in the states”.
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The misunderstanding lies with these two extremes – Is this “assisted suicide” or someone’s choice to die on their own terms knowing they are going to die soon suffering with physical pain only recognizing a fraction of the person they once were?
According to the poll conducted by Compassion and Choices:
“Three out of four Americans (74%) polled after Brittany Maynard utilized Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act agreed that: ‘Individuals who are terminally ill, in great pain and who have no chance for recovery, have the right to choose to end their own life.'”
Over a million of terminally diagnosed patients agree with this same choice, where 65% of people expressed interest in laws to uphold their end-of-life decisions so that they can plan and stay in control of how their loved ones remember their time here.
Now, back to the opening question, would you choose to fight to live or die on your own terms knowing you have a terminal illness? According to ¾ of America, they would like to have both options available to choose. So, the question of the hour is – Should we have the right of choice?
Before you make a decision, let me share with you my personal experience with observing a person with terminal brain cancer 1 year before passing:
This man was a talented musician, entrepreneur, a wonderful father and husband. His children boast of his magical personality while in his presence beams energy to his surroundings that made every moment warm, fun and bathed with love. They danced to him singing “shake your booty” while playing his guitar. One Christmas he was up in his luck and he surprised his children with presents stacked up to the ceiling. To him, life was an adventure and he spread this message to all who gifted his presence.
One sad day, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. His determination to continue living started off strong. His family was there to support him. He was always surrounded by so much love.
As time went by, the cancer became worse. Everyone could see his faith slowly dissipate when after his brain surgery the cancer grew back. His family remained by his side, but he started to become forgetful. Sometimes he couldn’t remember the names of his own children. He sometimes would stare at them as if they were strangers. Tears fall from their faces as they remember the man he once was. His weight began to fluctuate so drastically from treatments and surgeries it was hard to recognize him at times.
He looked to be aging so drastically. Then, he had a stroke. Half of his body became paralyzed. His wife helped him to go to the bathroom, bathed him and fed him. His sons would help move him from his bed to other places in the house. Hardly, would you see a smile on his face or hear him speak, most all of the light he had in abundance has disappeared. He hid it best he could, but now and then a tear would fall from his cheek while his family did their best to continue on with life. All his children, made sure to visit weekly. They wanted to be there for him when he decided to permanently close his eyes.
One night after all his children left to go back home and return to their weekly work routines, he passed away. They all knew he died knowing he was loved, very well-loved, but sadness overtook them as they wished to be there for his last moments. To soak up every minute of his last gaze, his last breath, his last words – but they missed it. As much as they want to feel complete peace, they know if they waited just 2 hours longer before leaving they would have been there for his last moments. This thought lingers forever.
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Everyone will read this and come to their conclusions. Some of you will see how wonderful it is to have this kind of family love and support. Some of you will think to yourself – “I would not want my last days on earth to be like this.” Whether it is right or wrong, who are we to decide? Every person has their own beliefs. What you do have knowledge of is how YOU would like to spend your last days.