If Brittany Maynard follows the plans she announced to the world weeks ago, she will die this weekend.
I’m not sure if Brittany realizes the date she chose for her death, Nov. 2, marks the celebration of All Soul’s Day; a day when Christians pray for the dead. In that way, her choice seems ironically fitting. She has needed and will continue to need our prayers.
Brittany’s story is heart-wrenching by all accounts. A beautiful, successful, young woman overcome with a deadly brain tumor, glioblastoma, she was given six months to live.
Rather than face more suffering and force loved ones to experience her difficult demise, Brittany relocated with her husband from California to Oregon, where euthanasia is legal.
I find the reality of this chilling. The plan was to celebrate her husband’s life on his Oct. 30 birthday and a few days after the party, end her own by ingesting a lethal drug.
The 29-year-old announced Thursday in a YouTube video that she was considering delaying the ending her life for now because, “I still feel good enough, and I still have enough joy – and I still laugh and smile with my friends and my family enough – that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now.”
Many found Brittany’s decision to end her life heroic and have made her a poster girl for assisted suicide. But others, like me, see her as having fallen prey to a culture that dismisses the sanctity of life and the redemptive value of suffering.
Fervent prayers were sent up by some of the latter, hoping she would change her mind. Those who grieve her decision have been told we have no right; we haven’t stood in her shoes.
While I don’t know what it’s like to be a victim of cancer, I do know what it’s like to love those dying of it, and I passionately believe that every day more is of infinite value.
The desire to escape suffering is very human. Those applauding Brittany’s choice identify strongly with that part of us wanting to avoid pain. I understand this and sympathize with Brittany.
But as a moral person, I cannot approach any situation without passing it through the lens of faith.
How does God see the situation? Firstly, God sees Brittany as a beautiful and unrepeatable soul whose value doesn’t come from a perfect exterior but from within.
We can know God’s thoughts on the matter, at least through the Christian perspective, in remembering that Jesus allowed himself to suffer out of love for us, even knowing it would be painful.
Brittany’s mother, Debbie, told CBS that she would have been honored to care for her daughter, even changing her diaper if it came to that, but Brittany said her mother is just too selfless to admit she doesn’t want to see her suffer another day.
Seeing it through her mother’s eyes helps bring clarity. While a natural death could mean another day or more of suffering, it also means one more day of being able to love her daughter through her suffering.
I’ve stood at the deathbed of a friend’s cancer-filled body, fallen to my knees in anguish, and gathered the courage to stand up again to spend that last day with her and other friends and family, massaging her feet, singing to her and praying her into the next life.
I wouldn’t have given up that day, nor the weeks and months that preceded it, for anything. Without it, the loss would have been even more profound. I am still learning from and will always be grateful for those ending days with her.
There is a peace that comes from doing things on God’s terms. As the author of life, God alone should determine when our lives end.
Consider the word “compassion.” In Latin, compassion means “to suffer with.” Though hard, suffering bears fruit. Sadly, Brittany’s final message says just the opposite.
In taking her life, Brittany denied herself all the moments, hours and days of love that she could have received in that time, and others the chance to bestow love on her. She thwarted the opportunity for her dear ones to grow through being at her side in her natural, final days.
It might be hard to see this without faith, but I’m disturbed that even the faithful have been divided on this issue.
Perhaps another look at compassion and what it truly means can shed light on this difficult topic and encourage those promoting euthanasia to see that true compassion would never lead to untimely death.
Our society has done Brittany wrong by not having taught this well enough.
Sadly, Brittany is no longer with us, and we are left to sort through how to address similar scenarios. Will we choose the truly compassionate and loving route or not?
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The above ran in The Forum newspaper on Nov. 1, 2014. Updated to reflect the reality that Brittany did follow through with her original plan.]