Photo above: Brittany Maynard from one of her last videos.
Brittany Maynard died last November 1st by her choosing, not by the government or medical profession. She was just 29 years old but was given a death sentence when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. After living and enjoying as much life as she could, Brittany decided to take the lethal prescription Oregon doctors prescribed to her and quietly passed away in her bedroom while listening to her favorite music with her husband next to her.
However, Brittany had to move from her home in California to Oregon because California, like 44 other states, does not have a Right To Die law. Thanks to Brittany, that may change.
There is no sound argument to be made against preventing the terminally ill from choosing when to die. No outside entity, whether it be the state or medical profession, has the right to tell us when we can die and they certainly have no right to put the terminally ill through added pain and suffering they may not want to experience.
“Who are we to play God,” you ask? We play God all the time. Whether we end a life via an abortion or the death penalty, it can be argued our society plays God. We play God by providing emergency life saving services whether it be in the form of an ER or life saving organ transplant. God is not the issue when it comes to the right to die.
“What about the Hippocratic Oath doctors take?” Sorry, but as the son of a doctor, I see this as more of a hypocritical oath. Doctors won’t prescribe a drug that will end the life of a terminally ill patient, but continue to prescribe them to keep a terminal patient alive, often times leaving them to feel more pain while merely existing rather than living. Loved ones are left to suffer that much more as well as they are powerless to do much more than watch a body fade away. This is not medical care nearly as much as it is inflicting undue pain and suffering, two things that run counter to the medical profession.
“But what if the Right to Die drugs fall into the wrong person’s hands?” Again, this is ridiculous. Think about how many teenagers have access to mom and dad’s Oxycontin or other powerful meds? These are the same kids who find a way to raid the liquor cabinet or know where the loaded hand gun is. We are not exactly doing much as a society to combat these ills, which far out weigh the number of terminally ill who might opt for Right to Die meds.
“Ah, but doctors make mistakes.” Yes, they do but we are not talking about a doctor telling a patient they have a few months to live and then handing them a bottle of pills to swallow. Before Right to Die medicine can be prescribed, a patient needs to have at least two doctors make the same diagnosis and the patient may not have more than six months left to live. I don’t know about you, but if my doctor tells me I have six months to live, I am going to make damn sure I get a second, and probably third, opinion before the reality of the diagnosis sets in. Then I am going to take a little time before I go asking for a prescription that will end it all for me and even once I have that prescription, I am going to tie up a few loose ends in my life before saying my good-bye to the world.
“But there is always hope.” Hope is what the New England Patriots had in the final minute of the Super Bowl when Seattle had the ball on the one-yard line. Hope is what Harry Truman had when newspapers were calling his defeat in the 1948 election before the results were in. Hope is what you have when you are lost in the wilderness and on your second day without any food to eat. However, for some terminally ill, hope is not as important as their dignity and for them, they should have something more powerful than hope; they should have freedom.
Nothing prevents us from our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But sometimes these pursuits conflict with one another and when one’s life is terminally ill, the ultimate freedom we can afford that person is their happiness. For some, that may mean using all means possible to extend their life. However, for others, avoiding those final days, weeks, or months and being allowed to pass on their own terms is the only happiness we can provide.
Right to Die laws do nothing to prevent those who want to live as long as medically possible from doing so. They do not interfere with their beliefs or sense of hope and allow all means to be used to maintain life. They also afford those who oppose such measures to avoid the inevitable and gives them the opportunity to die on their terms and not on those determined by the state.
Brittany Maynard did not make a selfish decision, as some claim, by choosing to die on her terms. She was brave enough to live for what she believed in and thoughtful enough to do so in a way that will allow her to live on in the work done by others. Her videos to the public and our state legislature depict a young woman speaking out on behalf of many others who have, and who will, face terminal illness. She wants for us all to have the choice to decide for ourselves how we leave this world. After all, who is better equipped to make that choice, the state or the individual?
(All photos via YouTube)
James Moore is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching and currently runs his own personal training business, In Home Jim, in Hemet, CA. Jim’s writings are often the end result of his thoughts mulled over while riding his bike for hours on end.