Brittany Maynard and Euthanasia – An Update
Contrary to our best hopes and prayers Brittany has decided to carry on with her suicide on Saturday, the 1st of November. We do hope that no other people will follow her example in the future. May she rests in peace.
The very sad story of Brittany Maynard, diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma earlier this year and given six months to live, is everywhere, on newspapers and in televisions around the world. Maynard and her husband Dan Diaz had moved from San Francisco to Oregon – one of only five states that have death-with-dignity laws. That’s what they call euthanasia – good death in Greek – to reduce the emotive impact on the public. Maynard plans to end her life in her own bed on November 1 – a day after her husband’s birthday – as a cancer patient she has been lobbying lawmakers in other states to pass legislation that would allow people to choose how they want to die. Brittany Maynard says that she love life but she wants to be the one to switch off when time comes to choose manner of her death. At age 29 she was filled with high hopes for her future: starting a family with her newlywed husband, traveling and going on mountain-climbing with friends. But on January 1, 2014, everything changed: doctors determined that the source of her persistent headaches was a malignant tumour in her brain. At first, Brittany was given 5-10 years to live but then this April Maynard was diagnosed with a cancer which will likely take her life within six months. This, by the way, is an horrendous habit by American doctors, who always want to predict, like in a game, the time of your death while in Italy they speak only with the relatives. We are all condemned to death but why trouble ourselves with the date and the time? Which happiness can we get in our lives by knowing the time when the bomb we are sitting on will go off?
Maynard then decided to take her life, or whatever was left of it, into her own hands. On Monday, Mrs Maynard launched an online video campaign for Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life non-profit organization, to promote death-with-dignity laws, which currently exist in only five states. In order to have the option of ending her life on her own terms, Maynard, her husband, Dan Diaz, and her parents moved from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, which has euthanasia. On November 1, Maynard plans to take a pill given to her by her doctors and painlessly fly away on another dimension, that’s what we call death, surrounded by her loved ones right in Dan’s bedroom, listening to her favourite music.
What has surprised me most s the fact that an article published by the popular Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera drew hundreds of positive comments, which for a Catholic country I did not expect. The few voices of disagreement were shut down by commentators with harshness or condescendence, as if speaking to small children. I disagree with euthanasia even if I may agree with suicide. If one wants to fall on his sword – as the Romans did – I can accept it, even if falling on your sword take great courage. I don’t agree on institutionalized euthanasia because that will open the floodgates of ‘forced suicide’ and abuses.
I watched a few years ago the sad story of a British couple: the husband was confined on a wheelchair and to an oxygen mask and he decided to end his life in order to free his wife from all inconveniences. They flew to Switzerland and the man was shown taking a lethal dose of poison from a nazi-looking Swiss doctor, while his favourite music was playing. Looking into his eyes I could see that he was not really ready to go down that road – no one of us will ever be… – but he was doing it to release the burden on his wife. But euthanasia’s victims will not just fade away, no matter which words we use to describe what they went through. They will leave behind scars among the livings which will never heal and many of them will later regret to have accepted that bargain, no matter how sick their beloved were. Serious doctors tell us that death can be rarely predicted with high accuracy and psychiatric assessments are not fool-proof – several cases of patients which had gone through euthanasia because they thought to be terminally ill have been already recorded – and powerful painkillers are available. We should not forget that in several developing countries, including Hong Kong, the population is aging and call by doctors or relatives ‘to go gently’ will be mounting but we should not set easily aside all calls to resist euthanasia, because they are based on thousand of years experience not only on moral and religious considerations. The first precept set by Hippocrates in his oath for doctors was not to harm the patients (primum non nocere) that cannot be seen as a mere coincidence. We see everywhere calls to politicians to change the laws and make euthanasia legal because politicians should ‘’reflect society not lead it.’’ I disagree because the first aim of a good politician should be to defend the weak and the poor including the protection offered by the law to sick patients from self-serving relatives and easy-going doctors. I still remember the words of my good friend Alfonso – who died at 53 with mesothelioma caused by exposition to asbestos – when he talked about the marvel, despite all his pain and sufferings, which he felt on seeing the grass of his garden grow every morning and wanting to enjoy it up to last minute of his tragically short life. I end here wishing and praying for a miracle for Brittany Maynard because miracles do happen, even if not all of us have eyes to see them.
Update on 31.X.2014.
Brittany Maynard hasn’t decided yet when she’ll end her life.
“I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now,” Maynard says in a video released to CNN on Wednesday. “But it will come, because I feel myself getting sicker. It’s happening each week.”
Since her announcement Brittany has become a world celebrity and this can only increase her hopes and the feeling of being loved. She has seen the grass growing in the garden, as my friend Alfonso was saying…
A video explaining her choice has been watched by more than 8.8 million on YouTube. And she has become, unfortunately, a prominent spokeswoman for the “death with dignity” movement, which advocates that terminally ill patients be allowed to receive medication that will let them die on their own terms. Maynard acknowledges that some have been skeptical about her reading of the term ‘dignity’.
“When people criticize me for not waiting longer, or, you know, whatever they’ve decided is best for me, it hurts,” she says, “because really, I risk it every day, every day that I wake up.”
“I think sometimes people look at me and they think. ‘Well you don’t look as sick as you say you are,’ which hurts to hear, because when I’m having a seizure and I can’t speak afterwards, I certainly feel as sick as I am,” she says, with tears in her eyes.
“They mostly do boil down to my family and friends and making sure they all know how important they are to me and how much I love them,” she says.
Philip Johnson, a Catholic seminarian who says he was also diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, criticized Maynard’s choice.
“A diagnosis of terminal cancer uproots one’s whole life, and the decision to pursue physician-assisted suicide seeks to grasp at an ounce of control in the midst of turmoil,” he wrote in a column posted on the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh’s website. “It is an understandable temptation to take this course of action, but that is all that it is — a temptation to avoid an important reality of life.”
Here is a letter that Joe Neyer has written to Maynard,
Dying with dignity includes living with quality.
Hello. My name is Joe Neyer. I was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) in November 2012. I had to face a terminal diagnosis, so I can relate to what Brittany Maynard is facing. I was given 14 months to live. I had surgery and chemo, but the tumor returned, which made my prognosis even worse. Months at best, they said and more likely weeks. That was over a year ago now. I was given options, but they all involved living as a glio patient on chemotherapy or other hospital trials and that was not really how I wanted to finish out my life experience. I decided to include medical treatment with other alternatives.I looked into what other ways I could approach the “baby” growing in my brain. I realized that my right to die included my right to live, that I could accept my condition and still accept being alive and living as well as I could. And in that acceptance alone I began to see positive effects in my condition.I noticed others were also looking into these same things, asking similar questions, and discovered more and more. It is not without ups and downs, but opening to the actuality of the condition does help shed understanding on the fear that can arise when given a terminal diagnosis. Now I am looking to understand it, not run from it, so I pour my heart into that, understanding as much as I can. Understanding unfolds like a lily on a pond, naturally opening up and revealing what seems hidden in the depths. I am now almost two years out from that diagnosis and defying all expectations.I am not bed-ridden, not incoherent — actually seeing improvements in all areas of function.It is not a miracle cure.I am still a human dealing with glioblastoma.I take some meds: anti-seizure, low dose steroids and pain meds, adjusting these as needed as time moves along. Also, I include all sorts of other practices that have been a part of my life for decades now. So, it seems to me there are many ways to approach a terminal diagnosis.Sometimes we are limited by our own assumptions or by what the doctors and charts tell us ‘will be.’ Medicine should not be ignored or neglected of course, but there are often other things we can include that will make a big difference, not only in quality of life, but in the extension of life as well. As a human with glioblastoma multiforme who is defying the odds and the expectations, I think it is important to share this aspect as well when we are talking about the right to die with dignity. It was great to see this conversation brought into the open by Brittany and there is much more to explore, it seems. Those with glio who watched her story were given death with dignity as an option. That is one story to be told here. I would like to add to it about living with quality while facing a terminal condition. It seems to me those same people afflicted with GBM who saw her story may benefit to know there are other options that they do not know. Not only on how to live, but potentially how to live well — if we are open to possibility. The right to die with dignity involves the right to live with quality. We are beginning to find out just how much we can do in this regard when it concerns a terminal diagnosis such as GBM.
Thanks for your time.