Brave. I’ve heard it used again and again to describe Brittany Maynard’s decision to take her own life. I do not doubt for one moment that she made her decision after great struggle and internal anguish. It wasn’t something she flippantly decided to do on a whim. She was told by her doctors that she would die – her cancer was terminal. There was no 15% chance of survival, or some other obscure number that could offer even a glimmer of hope that her life would continue on if she’d fight hard enough or was given the right treatment. She was facing death in no uncertain terms.
The only thing Brittany Maynard could control in this situation was the when and how she took her last breath. If she was going to die she wanted to do it on her own terms.
I’m not going to judge her because one thing I know for sure is that when life throws a tragic curve ball your way, and you get hit square in between the eyes, everything you once believed and thought you knew can crumble. I do not know what it’s like to walk in Brittany’s shoes, and if ever faced with the same diagnosis, I may contemplate making a similar decision.
One of my big problems with this situation is the word “brave” that so many have labeled Brittany with for her choice. It was just a few months ago that Robin Williams took his own life after battling with depression for years. His death brought a great deal of exposure to mental illness and suicide. Everyone was interested for all of 5 minutes about trying to end the stigma of mental illness and reaching out to others in hopes to avoid more suicides. But just weeks later, a young woman is praised for her choice to take her own life.
“It’s not the same! You can’t compare the two!” her supporters are screaming at me. But I’m not convinced they are that far off from each other. And where the two do differ? I don’t feel as much empathy for one as I do the other…
For starters, Robin Williams wasn’t thinking clearly, while Brittany Maynard was of sound mind.
Robin Williams was suffering internally for years with no relief. His internal suffering wasn’t “terminal” – it was worse. It was a constant, slow, daily torture that he couldn’t escape. He had no doctor predicted time frame to go by that would offer permanent relief from his pain. I am not justifying what he did. Just comparing. For him, it was something he had to endure. The same goes for people with physical ailments that do not kill, though the pain hurts so much they may wish for death at times.Take RSD for example – the burning pain that you cannot escape, but it won’t kill you. You just have to suffer and deal with it because there is no cure. How about ALS? Those who suffer with it have no cure. Would it be accepted and praised if a person suffering from ALS decided that instead of suffering for years they would just end their life while there was still “smiles and joy” left in their life?
Wouldn’t the majority of us agree those aren’t good reasons for someone to take their life? Some call suicide the cowards way out. I disagree fully! I also don’t believe that doctor-assisted suicide should be labeled as brave or dignified.
I can understand and validate people taking medication to speed up ending their lives during their last hours instead of allowing the suffering to continue. But I have a hard time justifying choosing the day that you will take your own life months prior and/or when the end is not imminent. To plan something so strategically seems so wrong to me. It doesn’t seem dignified. It seems too premeditated to be done out of place of pain and desperation and more out of a place of control. I don’t understand how someone can find pride in that decision.
Suicide isn’t the answer. It never is. Not with Robin Williams. Not with Brittany Maynard. Not with anyone. I get it – there was help for Robin Williams. There was hope – even if he couldn’t see it. Hope didn’t exist in the case of Brittany Maynard, but does that automatically justify her actions and elevate them to hero status? It could be argued that sticking it out until she died naturally is the brave choice. To know you’re time here on earth is limited, filled with suffering, and you are left just waiting… that’s brave to me. I’m not calling her a coward. I just don’t think it was “brave.” Her fears and anxious anticipation could be minimized by taking control or the exact day she would die. It was her life, and she did it legally, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
But now what? What could this lead to? More states legalizing doctor assisted Suicide? I mean the name even denotes that this way of death is killing yourself. My concern is that this could turn into a slippery slope. I don’t think we can say that suicide is acceptable in some situations and not others. It should be something that we fight against on all fronts, terminally ill or not.