Unless you’ve been completely unplugged, you likely heard the story of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard who opted to end her life with physician assistance in Oregon at the beginning of November.
Her story was big news just 30 days ago. Media focused on major points: her age (“so young”), her family’s move to Oregon from California so that she could avail herself of a death with dignity, and her plan to drink a cocktail that would allow her to peacefully go to sleep surrounded by her family and best friends. Opposition of course touted that life is too precious to be left up to individuals to decide when enough is enough. Some segments of society lamented that surely there was more that could have been done to save Brittany’s young life (or prolong her life) or that “suicide” was not the “right” answer.
But as I read several accounts and watched Brittany’s videos, I saw a finer point in her story. To me, even more important than the type of cancer she had, or her age, or even her decision to end her life, something else stood out. She made her own decisions based on research she read about her disease and the survival rates. She weighed risks and benefits of treatment, and she understood that a cure for her particular cancer didn’t exist. Brittany had conversations with her husband, her parents and her best friends about how she defined quality of life and how she wanted to control her eventual pain. She lived her life up to the very last day her body allowed, and she died as she planned.
The finer point: She made decisions and she talked about them with people she loved. Yes, it is difficult to think about our eventual deaths (our own or of those whom we love). I imagine it was very difficult for Brittany to contemplate death at the young age of 29. I also imagine it was extremely difficult for Brittany’s mother to watch her daughter go through this process and to learn of her decision to stop her life before it was no longer recognizable to her. The point is, this is never an easy conversation or a simple decision. But, the more we can talk about it, the easier it becomes. Not necessarily to embrace death, but to accept that it will happen. To plan for things we can contemplate as well as things we cannot and to make decisions based on how we define quality of life. And, finally, to talk about our decisions with those we love so when (not if) they are forced to make decisions on our behalf, they will have the knowledge of our decisions and the confidence to advocate for us when opposition arises.
Caring Choices salutes Brittany Maynard and others like her who have opted for a death with dignity. We also support those who want to “fight” through disease and treatments with the hope for additional life. Our mission is to support families having conversations and making decisions and we hope that everyone experiences the kind of closure that Brittany’s conversations likely provided her loved ones after her death.
(c) 2014 Caring Choices