Brittany Maynard opted to take her own life at the age of 29 to avoid whatever suffering her brain tumor would have brought as it progressed.
She is being hailed by some as a hero for making a courageous choice and for being willing to bring the debate about “death with dignity” to the forefront of the public’s attention.
I feel differently. To me, “death with dignity” means the willingness to take whatever life may have in store for us; it means going beyond the physical disintegration that is taking place in order to reap spiritual benefits.
Even though I did not agree with the choice Brittany made, for reasons I explain in my blog on Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mining-the-headlines/201411/did-brittany-make-the-right-choice, I do applaud her courage in making her decision public so we could discuss this important topic. I do believe in the “freedom to choose,” which in Brittany’s case required a move to Oregon where assisted suicide is legal, but I view her choice from a moral and spiritual perspective rather than a legal one. We’ll never know what gifts life could have given her had she held on.
I posed these questions to my upper level students in the LifeForce Energy Healing program. You can read some of their responses below.
“Death with Dignity” by Darby Ryon
Was it fear? Was it ego? Was it compassion or insecurity? Was it for financial reasons or for a cause? What was going through Brittany Maynard’s mind when she chose to take a fatal dose of barbiturates on November 1st? In the end the reason doesn’t matter. She made a choice and followed through with it.
Having watched my husband, Dan (seen here with a family friend), go through the debilitating effects of glioblastoma mulitforme (stage 4 brain cancer), you would think my first reaction would be compassion for Brittany. In some ways, I do. At first the problem-solving abilities start to disappear, then the small motor skills, and then the large motor skills. Some days you do not see the effects the swelling in the brain can cause, and other days you just want to hold him or her tightly to try to bring them back to reality.
I was fortunate that Dan never had the anger episodes that we were warned about. Somehow he was always able to keep his cool, and to laugh at himself. One day my daughter took him to the hardware store for supplies for a project he had concocted. Dan was an engineer and always needed to be busy doing something. Thank goodness he didn’t recognize that I had disabled his large power tools for fear he could lose a limb, which he was slowly losing control of anyway. While in the hardware store, my daughter went down an aisle to get one of the items on his list and he went down another aisle. To this day she laughs hysterically when she tells about how she turned the corner to see her dad walking down the aisle with his pants around his ankles! He couldn’t keep the bloody things up BEFORE the cancer diagnosis, but now it didn’t seem to bother him. He just laughed at himself and went about his business. What an amazing attitude!
When Dan was diagnosed, we were told he basically had three months to live. Here was this strong top executive of a large corporation curled in a ball and reduced to tears. Yes, we were told about all of the horrible things to come, just as Brittany was. And I am sure at some point Dan wanted it all to end before it got too bad. Instead, he chose to fight it. He had two teenage daughters that he wanted to spend time with and he wasn’t willing to give that up. Dan chose to set goals for himself and not let the cancer rule his life. When he was told he could no longer drive, he worked to improve his motor skills so he could retest to get his license back. And when he failed the test the first time, he tried harder. He rode his bike to his radiation treatments. We took walks in the fresh air.
Dan always had the goal of going back to work, but in the meantime we spent quality time together as a family. We took a special family vacation in the middle of the school year. And then on Spring Break we went on a cruise with our extended family. The memories we made during those holidays were some of the best!
The girls and I laugh about situations that arose because of his condition, like the time he was lost on a small island for two hours because he wandered left instead of right. We were on opposite sides of the maze of bushes. Then we happened upon a bar on the beach at the same time; we laughed, sat down and had a beer, toasting that we had finally found each other. There was no yelling or blaming . . . just love.
All of this makes me wonder what experiences Brittany missed out on. Watching my husband lose his cognitive skills, his fine motor skills, his large motor skills, and eventually his mental presence was incredibly difficult. Not to mention watching the seizures, the looks of pain and sadness in his eyes that crushed me. At the same time, I wouldn’t trade those nine months—yes NINE!—that we got to spend as a family with him. In some ways I feel that watching Dan get weaker helped us to prepare for his death. It didn’t make his death any easier, but at least we were eased into it.
Four years later, I have a different view of death than I did at the time of Dan’s passing. I have discovered energy healing; mind over matter; Ayurvedic medicine; spiritual presence; a connection with guides and angels; and the concept of Oneness. I wonder if Brittany was aware of these things prior to her decision to end her life?
What does it really mean to “die with dignity?” Is it to die knowing you lived well? Is it to die with your head held high, proud of the choices you have made? Is it to die with respect for all that you have represented in this life? For that matter, isn’t respect a relative term? I will never know what was going on in Brittany’s mind or what made her choose to end her life. But it was her choice.
Yes, the last two weeks of my husband’s life were not easy, either for him or for us. Yet, I believe he was watching from above at that point, and the occasional look of clarity and love in his eyes warmed my heart. My husband died a fighter. And yes, he died with dignity.
The Choice to Die by Karen Polk
While I completely respect Brittany Maynard’s decision to die, I had a hard time understanding it. I have spent the past nine years doing everything I can to stay alive and thrive in the face of so-called incurable cancer. I have chosen to live—in whatever form that may take—which makes it hard for me to agree with her choice. So this is a very personal issue for me. But it is also a reminder of how little information most people have about their own bodies and what they are capable of, and how much we give away our power to a medical community that often only sees disastrous, limited futures for many of us.
What I have learned in the past nine years is that these flesh-and-bone bodies of ours are more resilient than we ever give them credit for. The life force energy that animates us is bigger than we can ever imagine; we are capable of extraordinary physical changes even when the medical community feels that our bodies are “broken.” But we often don’t want to hear some of the non-physical reasons why we might be experiencing bodily problems, and we certainly don’t want to take responsibility for them. We are so disconnected from the unseen world that when we hear a phrase, like Plato’s “don’t even think about healing your body until you’ve healed your spirit,” we turn to another institution to which we have relinquished much of our power: religion, which is often the source of misunderstandings about our place in the universe to begin with! Sigh.
I have been blessed with time when it comes to my health issues. Time to explore, learn, research, change, compare and come to new understandings about me and this disease. Were I to face an ugly, aggressive cancer like Brittany faced, I might think differently. Could she have overcome her disease? Maybe, maybe not. Where do you turn if you don’t have the tools, like the ones we learn from Deborah’s 21st CEM program? Or have studied Buddhism? Or embraced the real spiritual substance which all religions share?
What if you can’t overcome the fear of a natural death? Or more importantly in this case, the fear of pain, disfigurement, and loss? What if you don’t really see how every little thing about your own life and your struggle through challenges can affect others in your life in ways that you never could have predicted? I keep checking my own tendency to analyze the science and outcome of the illness I am dealing with by remembering a quote from medium John Holland: “I don’t know anything. But I am connected to something that knows everything.” The grandness of the universal “plan” is often beyond our comprehension. Brittany Maynard’s choice to end her life has its place in the universal scheme of things that I can’t begin to comprehend.
I read a book by Neil Donald Walsch in which he says that all paths lead to the same destination, but some are more arduous than others. If I accepted all that my doctors have said and honestly believe about my health issues, my path would be arduous indeed. But even if I were to experience all that this disease can do to a body, I would still want to pass the way my father did. The lesson I learned from his own arduous journey was that you LIVE until you die. Even through the pain and changes that cancer can bring. As my tai chi teacher said when I told him of my diagnosis, “Life is like this sometimes.”
Brittany Maynard’s Choice to Die by Kathleen Kalbas
I totally support Brittany Maynard in her choice of Death with Dignity this past weekend. I am grateful that she had the right to choose when and how she exited this life. While in graduate school, we were encouraged to choose a controversial topic to research and take the opposite side of what we supported. I chose the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon that had just gone into effect in 1997. Coming from a conservative Lutheran religious background and having been told all my life that taking one’s life was a quick ride to spending eternity in hell, I was against the Death with Dignity Act at that time. After doing my research of the Oregon law, I came to support this end-of-life option for those who felt this choice was right for them.
Having worked in hospice, offering comfort to patients who had six months or less to live, I witnessed many patients struggle with terminal illnesses while receiving palliative care. This job only validated my belief that every individual should be able to choose the sort of death that gives him or her the most peace and comfort when life is most difficult. No one should be forced to endure intolerable suffering at the end of life. Pain management is instrumental to individuals with terminal illnesses. Patients may become resistant to morphine, which makes life unbearable. It is heartbreaking for family members to watch their loved ones suffer and decline as they faithfully hold vigil by their side, all the while praying for a peaceful end.
I also respect the religious view that God is in control and will call you home in His time. Suffering is viewed as a part of life, even as Jesus suffered for us. Patients with these beliefs bravely endure their suffering just to be with loved ones for even one more day. In this view, the natural process of death should not be interfered with since God has the ultimate plan and forbids taking one’s life under any circumstance. This path is therefore right for those individuals with these views. I live in a conservative community where this is the only acceptable view, yet I respect every individual’s choice when his or her time comes.
I cannot say which way to exit this life is best. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself. I do know that quality of life is so important. Having witnessed terminally-ill individuals in their last days, I saw first hand how the act of dying can be almost unbearable for the family. I support Brittany’s decision to die with dignity and to save her family the pain of watching her suffer in her last days. I do not judge anyone’s choice. I look forward to the day when Death with Dignity is an option available to everyone. The request of the terminally ill should be honored, whether it is for a natural death or for Death with Dignity. It’s having the right to choose that is important!
DYING WITH DIGNITY by Ruth McAdams
On November 2, 2014, terminally-ill Brittany Maynard ended her own life. I completely support her decision to die with dignity. When Brittany was diagnosed early in the year with stage 4 glioblastoma, she soon learned this was a rare and aggressive brain cancer for which there was no known cure. The surgery she underwent to stop the growth of the cancer was also aggressive. However, the tumor continued to grow and Brittany was told she had only months to live. Since her death was inevitable and imminent and the effects of the progressive disease would be terrible, as Brittany’s condition worsened she made the decision to end her life with dignity. I believe that anyone struggling under such conditions should have the choice to end their suffering and that this choice should be supported by the laws and health care policies in our country.
I have not come to my position on “dying with dignity” either quickly or lightly; I have been thinking about this for many decades. I have been married twice and both my husbands died from rare cancers. My second husband, like Brittany, had stage 4 glioblastoma; it was aggressive, unstoppable, and deadly. He chose the most aggressive treatment—two radical surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy—and even with all of this, he died seven months after he was diagnosed. I have often wondered if “death with dignity” had been an option, would my husband have chosen to end his own life? And what do I think I would do if I were in a similar situation? Each person is different and no one decision is right for everyone, but I do feel that each should have the choice.
In learning about Brittany Maynard, I read about another young woman, Michelle Myrick, who also is dealing with glioblastoma. She has had two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. About Brittany she writes, “But it saddens me that she took her own life, because she took the joy out of her family being able to love on her through it.” While I definitely feel that I was specially chosen by God to help my husband in his passing, I would not use the word “joy” to describe what this experience was like for me! I nursed him at home with the help of hospice and, while it has proved to be a great spiritual blessing for me, at the time it was horrific. The things that Brittany feared would happen to her, happened to my husband. The surgery took away a lot of his brain, and with it went his rational thinking, bodily functions, and mobility. I can understand why Brittany did not want to endure all of this, along with the possibility that she might become resistant to morphine and suffer even further. Thankfully, I had all the morphine I needed to keep my husband out of pain.
During my husband’s illness, we had wonderful doctors and I know they struggled with the extended pain and suffering of their patient. I remember one saying to me, “We have to consider whether we are extending this person’s life or simply extending their death. And if we are only prolonging their dying, this is so hard on the patient, family, and all who are caring for them.” I believe there are many doctors across our country who, under certain circumstances, would favor laws and policies that support dying with dignity.
I know that the Roman Catholic Church and other religions are firmly against the ending of one’s own life under any circumstance. I believe in God; I do not believe God would want me, or anyone else, to endure prolonged suffering when there is no hope. The God I believe in is compassionate and caring.
After my husband’s passing it became very important that I talk with my family about my own end-of-life wishes and put in place my Living Will and Powers of Attorney to make things as smooth as possible when my time comes. I urge everyone to do this, no matter their age. It’s a lot easier to do while you are healthy and feeling good!
Choosing Death by Barbara Sinclair
Brittany’s Maynard’s choice to end her life was just that: her choice. I cannot fathom passing judgment on her without walking in her shoes.
I lived through years of extreme pain that I thought would never end, but it wasn’t a death sentence handed to me by doctors. I imagine the pain Brittany felt was many times worse than anything I’ve experienced, so to make comparisons seems wrong. But I do know that living through that pain changed me in ways I couldn’t fathom at the time. It was a gift and most definitely part of my path.
Brittany will never have that chance. I can’t help but think about Anita Moorjani and her recovery from Stage 4 “terminal” cancer. Her story is truly remarkable and offers us the gift of hope in the very bleakest of circumstances and death sentences.
Then there is Ayurveda teacher Maya Tiwari, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the tender age of 23, when she was a well-known fashion designer. After 12 major surgeries and numerous rounds of radiation over the course of 2-1/2 years, Maya was sent home to die. Instead, she went alone to a friend’s cabin in Vermont in the dead of winter, where she faced herself, her ancestors, her demons, and ultimately healed. You can read her story in The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Ayurvedic Healing. Today, Maya is a healthy woman in her 60’s who brought the first school of Ayurveda to the United States. She had written numerous books and taught thousands of eager students, like myself.
All things are possible.
I cringe whenever I hear of a diagnosis that states “you have X number of months or years to live.” There is a negative power in those words that can disrupt the possibility of healing. I have to wonder what Brittany would have decided if she hadn’t been handed a “death sentence.”
Author-poet Mark Nepo also survived a harrowing experience with brain cancer. Perhaps his wasn’t as life-threatening as Brittany’s; I don’t know. But he did survive two bouts (the first time a tumor the size of a grapefruit miraculously disappeared right before treatment was scheduled.) What I do know is that Mark’s survival gifted us with words that are balm to the soul. His path of pain, suffering, fear, and ultimately healing became a catalyst for him to become a wonderful spiritual teacher through his incredible writing.
There has been a lot of debate whether Brittany taking her own life was any different than suicide. I believe it was a form of suicide, which always involves pain and an inability to cope with the pain. Whether the pain is physical or emotional, suicide is a decision to put an end to that pain. We know that pain in the body always has an emotional component. No one but Brittany knows what it was for her, whether she was aware of it or tried to work through it.
Brittany’s story is a sad one, for sure. I don’t think any of us knows how we would react in the same situation. I send only love and light to her departed soul.
Suicide or Death with Dignity – Is It a Choice? by Susan Ganz
Brittany Maynard was terminally ill and selected to die before her cancer took away her dignity. The debate centers around whether it is right or wrong for someone who is terminally ill to choose to end their life. Should assisted suicide, “death with dignity,” be a choice?
Our country is founded and operates on the principle of protecting our fundamental human rights. Aren’t choices about life and death FUNDAMENTAL rights? What could be more fundamental to life than dying, especially if you are terminally ill?
I believe Brittany’s choice was hers to make. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with it. It’s all about having that fundamental right to choose. I support the right to choose on pregnancy issues, the right to choose whom to marry, and the right to choose when to die if terminally ill. I don’t have to like the person’s choice or agree with it, but I have to accept it and respect it. No one else can know someone else’s beliefs, their support, their pain, and their love.
I watched my mom die of cancer. She gave it a good run and fought a great battle. However, when her last experimental drug had stopped working and the next new drug was several months away, she declared she was done. Ten days later she was gone. I often feel she willed herself to die in those 10 days. I was mad at her for giving up. She wasn’t going to ultimately win, just buy some more days. I wanted her to stay, but that was for me. She’s now in a place of no more pain, reunited with my dad. But if she had hung on “long enough” would that next drug have been the miracle cure? We’ll never know.
I don’t see my mother’s choice as much different than Brittany’s. Although she didn’t take drugs to end it all, she mentally shut down her will to live. Her death left so many unanswered questions. When is enough enough? How hard should one fight to survive? How much dignity should be sacrificed? How do you choose to leave those you love in this world? Do you live each day to the fullest and bring as much love, joy, and inspiration to the world as possible? Frankly, Brittany made her decision quite some time ago when she refused chemo and other treatments. She had already “given up.” What if she had chosen differently?
I look at a young boy named Clayton McDonald (claytonsstory.com), who died in 2009 at the age of 18. Most of his life he lived with cancer, but he lived every day to the fullest and had an incredible impact on everyone he met. He made a video on March 15th and died March 16th. His video still inspires people around the world. He viewed his life as a gift. Could Brittany have better used the last few weeks or months of her life inspiring others? We’ll never know.
My thoughts have drifted to Randy Pausch and “The Last Lecture.” Randy was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and “The Last Lecture” was his final speech. He was dying, but he CHOSE to use his time to talk about living. The wisdom he left behind was meant for his wife and children, but I think about all the people he encouraged and inspired to embrace life and live it to the fullest.
Would you consider Brittany’s choice? Would it be YOUR choice?
It’s a really tough question to ponder. No one can stand in another person’s shoes at that moment and make that decision. How can “we” as a society tell a person what their thoughts and actions should be about death and beyond? Is there ever a “good” time to die?
Personally, I can only say my choice would be: “it depends.” I’m such an optimist, always holding out hope for that miraculous healing or cure to come about. There are too many stories of spontaneous healings not to consider that an option. I’d be constantly asking myself lots of questions. Have I tried everything? Have I given it the best fight possible? Have I tried all the alternatives? Have I lived my best life and learned my lessons? Maybe I chose this life and set of experiences, including how I die, to provide certain experiences for others and myself. Who will I inspire?
Today, not faced with that decision, I believe I would fight to stay for every last breath and to love for every last moment and inspire those around me to live their best life, like Clayton and Randy. Most importantly though, my hope is that when the time comes you will accept and support MY choice, and my fundamental right to choose . . . whatever that choice might be.
DEATH WITH DIGNITY by Ellen Waselewski
I do not feel that I have a right to comment on Brittany Maynard’s personal decision to end her life because I was not in her shoes. I’m sure that she and her husband discussed her situation exhaustively. However, I do not believe in “assisted suicide” in general or feel that suicide is ever a good choice. By law assisted suicide is allowed in five states, but I do not believe it is a right choice spiritually.
As a nurse I frequently have been present at death. When I was in my 20’s, I worked in a nursing home. I remember one elderly male patient who did not have any fatal illness. He told the doctor and the staff that he wanted to die and he would do so by stopping food and water intake. The doctor allowed him to do this. It bothered me, but the patient could not be dissuaded from his choice. He refused all food and water, yet he lingered for several weeks. His dying process made a painful impression on me. I have had other patients that lost the will to live and subsequently died. These patients were elderly and of sound mind.
When I worked in the state psychiatric hospital, there were younger patients who were mentally ill and wanted to die. Since they were not of sound mind, everything was done to prevent them from hurting or killing themselves. When they were feeling better and able to work through their problems, they were relieved and thankful that they had not been allowed to die.
I’m not sure, Deborah, whether this is on topic, but I would like to mention abortion. I have known women who have had abortions and regretted their decision for the rest of their lives. I have to qualify this by saying that most of the women I worked with were being treated for some type of mental health issue. There are probably women who have had abortions and do not regret them. I personally would never have had an abortion, although I am pro-choice in certain circumstances. I’m sure there is a karmic debt to pay for abortion as there is for suicide.