As society sees waves of humanitarian issues; abortion, gay rights, women’s rights; one that is currently at the forefront of major discussion is the “right to die”.
Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer, made headlines when she publicly announced her decision to end her own life under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Social media followed her as she crossed off items on her “bucket list” before she died in Portland on Saturday. While she voiced that she received an outpouring of support with her decision, her story has also gotten a significant amount of negative criticism.
It’s hard to say if her decision to take her life is “right” or “wrong”. What do these words even mean? They are relative, and if they were easily defined, most of these human rights movements would be solved. To me, this is another example exemplifying the fact that the world is not split into black and white: this lies in that very gray area, where people are discussing the private lives of others.
Maynard said it was unfair that people were mixing up suicide with the Death with Dignity Act; “…there’s not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying.”
This statement is the core of this act– for those who are in indescribable pain and their death sentence is signed, this is the only way to ensure “quality of life”. Her immediate death was inevitable, so for her, dying on her own terms was her only sense of control over this horrifying diagnosis.
Doctors are meant to treat and help those in need, so wouldn’t that apply to this act? Preventing her death was impossible, so, was it so wrong to avoid the painful prolongation, to assist her death comfortably? I don’t think so, and neither did she.
We allow this act for our beloved pets but somehow Brittany’s story is innately different. If our dog or cat is in pain and suffering, we permit one final act of empathy, but do not allow this understanding for humans. We expect them to fight and endure a suffering that we may know nothing about. And for what? The same impending outcome.
Death is the one thread that connects every single being, for everyone will someday die. Yet, it is such a taboo topic in which people forget about empathy, privacy, and personal control. Maynard beautifully summed it up: “…this terrible brain cancer has taken so much from me, but would have taken so much more.”