Death and Dignity

When I was in high school, back in the early 70’s, I wrote an English paper on Euthanasia. The idea of assisted suicide was not widely discussed in the public domain as it is today. This was before Jack Kevorkian came on the scene. At age 16, my interest in “mercy killing” as it was so politely called was a direct result of living with a Grandfather who had lost his mind to alcoholism and disease. By day I attended school and tried to have as normal of a social life as possible. At night I listened intently as he prowled the house, fearful that he would somehow wander away. At times, his dementia caused him terrible outbursts of anger toward my grandmother. There was name-calling and curse words that had never passed his lips before, at least in my presence. My grandmother and I watched him slowly die, day by day. It took eight months and I became an advocate for death with dignity.                                           

Death is not an easy topic to discuss, but it fascinates us in a strange way. The wide span of our beliefs vary from ‘nothing exists beyond this life’ to eternal bliss or damnation. We believe is ghosts and spirits and an afterlife where we are reunited with loved ones. We personify death . He is the Reaper, the Angel of Death. He snatches us away, he guides is to a better world.  On the verge of death, our brains in fits of electrical impulses show us visions of  the White Light of heaven. We are at peace.
Death is as personal as it gets. It is the greatest mystery yet to be solved. 

We perceive death as something that happens to us, completely outside our control.  After all, who wants to die? If we are lucky (so we say), death will come fast and painless. Our greatest fear is a slow, painful death. Yet even when death is just around the corner, we wait. Afraid to give up one minute of life, no matter how bad death may be.  
But not everyone believes Death has the upper hand. This past weekend, Brittany Maynard cheated death of much of its sting. Brittany was a young woman, dying from a fast-acting form of brain cancer. When she was diagnosed, she had less than a year to live. Brittany and her husband decided to move to Oregon where Brittany could legally receive from her physician a lethal dose of medication.  Brittany did not simply walk into her doctors office and receive a prescription. There were many steps, and waiting periods before she was granted her request.
On Saturday, after much thought and consideration, Brittany ended her battle with cancer and ended her life. She made a choice to die on her own terms, with dignity.
Brittany’s decision re-opened the debate surrounding the ethics of assisted suicide. Personally,  I support Brittany’s decision. As someone who has not walked in her shoes, it is not my place to judge her.  But I do believe this topic needs to be fully debated  to insure that those who are most vulnerable are protected from pressure to end their life for the sake of another’s agenda. 
Dying with dignity is not a simple “yes I can” or ‘No you won’t” type of decision. Like most important things in life, there is a complex gray area that needs to be explored. Support groups and law makers need to keep an open mind and find ways to protect the rights of those who, like Brittany, want to make the ultimate decision for themselves while ensuring we don’t go too far. 
 I leave you with Brittany’s final Facebook message and a hope that we find the right answer.

“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more,” Brittany.


3 thoughts on “Death and Dignity

  1. My this is heavy. Really good post. I know a friend of a friend who passed away sadly a few days ago after committing suicide. Death itself isn’t easy but the effect it has on those left behind is equally painful

  2. Thank you for your comments. The idea that we should have control over our own death is very difficult for people to talk about, mainly because of the religious implications.

    I am sorry for your loss and I hope you find peace.

  3. Excellent post. Dignity in Dying is coming up for debate again here in the UK. I have always felt that the choice should be there, as it was for our ancient ancestors. This was even before I was diagnosed with an illness – Multiple Sclerosis – that in some cases has driven people down that path.

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