I Vote for Me: Death With Dignity
At the urging of a friend, I picked up the novel Me Before You by Jojo Moyes at the beginning of this year. I’d heard my friend mention just a few of the key points of the novel as she discussed at our lunch table how emotional it was for her: Super active, good-looking, vivacious, wealthy young guy becomes a quadriplegic after he’s hit while on his motorcycle by a speeding car. Then a doting, attentive, pretty young girl is hired to take care of him, and naturally they fall in love. I thought it was just the book for me. I’d actually thought about this kind of thing in my own life, a lot:
Who would take care of me if something terrible like that happened? Could I take care of someone in that situation?
Oh, but was there more to it than that! This book explores the topic of euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, or death-with-dignity, or whatever reference you choose to adopt.
Euthanasia is defined as the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or one in an irreversible coma, via the administration of life-ending medication by a physician. The practice, when applied to humans, is totally illegal EVERYWHERE.
Physician-assisted suicide, by contrast, is patient-facilitated suicide by means of a drug prescription provided by a physician who is aware of how the patient intends to use such means or information, but the physician does not administer the medication himself.
Death-with-Dignity is the philosophical concept (as it relates to physician-assisted suicide) that a terminally ill patient should be legally allowed to die ‘naturally’ and comfortably rather than experience a comatose, vegetative, or painful death prolonged by mechanical support systems or other life-sustaining measures not of their choosing. I remember so much about Dr. Kevorkian back when he burst onto the scene in the 1990s, he was a staunch advocate of this practice.
Brittany Maynard chose physician-assisted suicide to end her own life on November 1, 2014 and it made worldwide headlines for its controversial nature. Once I learned of it, I followed her story very closely and I rooted like hell for her.
Watch Brittany HERE.
She was a beautiful, vivacious, intelligent 29-year old California girl with a dashing husband. She was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier in that year and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would die from it. California state law, however, did not legally allow physician-assisted suicide so Brittany and her husband moved to Oregon where her choices were considered valid by lawmakers with their passage of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.
In 1997, Oregon became the first U.S. state to make it legal for doctors to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient of sound mind who makes the request on their own. The patient must fill the prescription and swallow the drug without help; it is illegal for a doctor to administer it. Washington State, Washington DC, Montana (sort of), Vermont, and Colorado have since joined Oregon. Then came California in 2015, Brittany’s home state, as the only six states in the whole United States to allow physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
This also makes the United States one of only five countries in the whole world where (in some states) assisted suicide is legal, joining Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg.
Florida has no such law on the books, but there are bills in the legislature currently being considered. Sigh. That’s me taking in a deep breath as I anticipate the backlash of this consideration if it ever gains any momentum in Tallahassee. I live in a conservative state with deep, deep spiritual roots, where it is widely believed that every decision should be heavily driven by what the Bible says, and we all know what the Bible says about suicide.
But suffering is not a choice anyone would make for their loved ones. Like all decisions pertaining to the quality of one’s own life, it is nobody’s business but theirs. Suicide has touched me way, way more personally than most and in reflection, I do not see it, I have never seen it, as a selfish choice. Shame on people who say that. When a person steps back and looks at the factors in play with their circumstances: a young age, the pain of wasting away, the loss of joy, the hopelessness of lacking a cure, and the burden one’s family takes on in caring for a terminally sick person (or maybe a person who isn’t terminal but is nevertheless incurable), all of these make me think that tracking your own life in an aggressive, resolute way is…brave. Brave. It’s the opposite of selfish. Perhaps if other options were available and if more people were given the time, the encouragement and the support to include their loved ones in their choice, the torment of regular suicide would sting less. Perhaps.
Brittany Maynard did not choose her sickness but she chose how she wanted to handle it, and it was completely with her right to do that. She picked the time, the place, the manner, the music and the memories to surround herself with when she cast her last, most important vote in deciding who controlled her life. The pain the survivors feel after the death of a loved one is immense, I know. But if given that choice myself: to stay alive…in terrible, endless pain…just for the sake of my family, or to adhere to the guilt of a biblical teaching, would be impossible. In that case, it would be just like the book title says.
It is the way I would choose to go, too.
Author’s Note: In the years since this post, things have changed. This link has information on the countries who have since legalized either Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide, as of 2020.