I’d like to express my appreciation to Brittany Maynard for going public with her decision to exercise her Death with Dignity option in Oregon because it will bring this conversation to the family dinner table where it belongs. Of course I’m sad she has this terrible condition, but if she can make something positive out of a bad situation, which she is by raising awareness, it gives hope to many people who want the same thing– if my death is inevitable, let it be peaceful and on my own terms.
This is what I encourage people to do on a daily basis through my writings and “Having The Conversation over Coffee and Cake” gatherings. I don’t encourage Death with Dignity, but I’m not afraid to address it as an option and provide resources, such as Compassion & Choices, if people want to consider it. This is a truly personal decision that should be between a terminally ill patient and those in his or her inner circle and it’s a shame the Maynard family has to be exposed to the vitriol that permeates Internet over their personal decision to allow Brittany to have a peaceful death with dignity. It’s as if everybody suddenly noticed there’s an elephant in the room.
Those among us who think we have a right to an opinion about how any person decides he or she wants his/her death to be should be thinking about how they want the end of their lives to be, not someone they don’t even know. If, for whatever reason you think, having control over one’s own death at the end of life, is wrong then do it your way, whatever that is – and let me do it my way. Don’t force your views on me because you think you have all the right answers and I won’t interfere with your decisions about how you choose to experience your last days. And I’m referring here to people who have been given 6 months or less to survive a terminal illness, are in intractable pain or unbearable agony or suffering, and choose not to prolong their life.
That choice is still limited by the ability to self-administer the medication and therein lies the crux of the problem. If the person waits too long and loses decision-making abilities, or there is a sudden change in health that precludes swallowing or self-administering the medication, or if the person makes the request too late for all the paperwork to be completed, there are complications. This is where the law comes in. We can’t have people recklessly giving vulnerable people life-ending medications, or physicians or insurance companies or the government deciding when life no longer has value.
The law that was passed in Oregon takes into account the legal aspects of the issue to the extent that we can protect the vulnerable and protect physicians, hospice workers, pharmacists and families, from prosecution for helping a dying person carry out their wishes for a peaceful ending to their physical existence. This law has stood the test of time with no slippery slope or mass extinction for 17 years and is the basis for the laws passed in Washington, Vermont, and pending a vote in several other states.
Studies among physicians reveal a majority of physicians would refuse treatment and consider Death with Dignity for themselves, but they would suggest continuing treatments to their patients. They have the hypocrisy to claim that an oath written 2500 years ago by people who believed the earth was flat, and gods and goddesses ruled over humanity, told them to do no harm and give no poison. What really is the harm if the person is dying and is in considerable pain?
Which leads us to consider religious views that claim God said this or that, or a Jesus or a Mohammed said this or that, and believe that their holy book or their dogma is the one and only truth – and that it applies to the rest of us. And many people don’t believe… that there is even a God or a Jesus or a Mohammed to have a say so in the matter. Then we have many ethical atheists who think we only have one life and have no right to end it on our own terms.
We live in a world where millions of people die every day, often sick, hungry, dehydrated, neglected or savagely beaten, enslaved, decapitated, electrocuted, eviscerated, drowned, bombed, burned alive, as if they were meaningless cockroaches. But suddenly we become concerned and know what’s best for some poor person who has been suffering terribly with some dreadful disease or condition, and only asks for a peaceful death with dignity in the privacy of their own bedrooms, surrounded by their loved ones.
I hope Brittany Maynard’s plight will be an awakening to all you who have doubts about what is the right thing to for you in a situation like she is facing and begin to see that death is a sacred journey into whatever comes next. We will all go through it, we need to recognize that it is a graduation, not the end of our journey.
The message from my near-death experience is that We Don’t Die! Death of the body is not the end of life – life goes on and there is so much more to look forward to beyond the veil of illusion.
Peace & Joy!