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Saturday
Nov012014

The Right to Live and Die - Death with Dignity

Life is short. For some, it is cut even shorter. Enjoy life. Never miss a chance to tell someone that you love them.(Please note the update at the bottom of this post.) The right of sick and dying individuals to choose when they wish to die has always been a controversial topic. It has risen to significant levels in the public discourse several times during the past few decades. One of the most notable controversies of years past was regarding Dr. Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian, dubbed “Dr. Death” by many, the euthanasia activist famous for often championing a terminal patient's right to die. He claimed to have assisted well over a hundred patients to end their lives.

Recently, the sad set of circumstances regarding Brittany Maynard has taken center stage in a similar debate about what has become known as “death with dignity.”

Brittany Maynard is a young and beautiful woman. Under different circumstances she would have everything to live for. However, after having been married for just over a year and after months of suffering from debilitating headaches, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. After her initial diagnoses and several surgeries, she learned last April that her tumor had returned and was more aggressive. Doctors at that point gave Maynard a prognosis of six months. After researching her illness and the accompanying recommended treatments Maynard concluded that her condition was futile in respect to any quality life as the months would ware on and opted for a "death with dignity" solution.

Maynard and her family decided to move to Oregon which is one of only five states that permit “death with dignity” briefly defined as an end-of-life option for mentally competent and terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. More specifically Oregon, Washington and Vermont have "death with dignity" laws that allow terminal patients meeting these criteria to voluntarily request and receive prescription drugs which are self-administered to quickly bring about their death. Judicial decisions in Montana and New Mexico permit doctors to prescribe fatal drug doses in such circumstances however the rulings haven't progressed into becoming state laws.

Maynard produced a video that went viral during the past weeks or so (located for your reference at the bottom of this article) and also announced that she planned to die via the prescription drugs scheduled on November 1, 2014 surrounded by her family and close friends. In the last week or two Maynard managed to achieve a major goal on her bucket list, which was a visit to the Grand Canyon.

Just in the past 24 to 48 hours (at the time of this writing) Maynard seemed to have put off the plan to die on Nov. 1st. She was quoted as saying, “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.”

As I have followed the Maynard story in the news and social media it does seem as though there are two camps on this issue with very little middle ground.

I would say the support for her on the one hand has been over-whelming.  I have noticed many people posting comments in support of Maynard who have had family members die excruciating deaths. Also, many have noted in their comments that they are medical professionals who perfectly understand her decision to “die with dignity.”

Maynard has also had her detractors. Many of her most staunch opponents not surprisingly come from religious circles citing that only God can decide when death comes. Others are also alarmed by the amount of support she gets in the public forums claiming that “death with dignity” is veiled terminology for suicide.  I would concede there is a certain risk that would need to be addressed to guard against the abuse of these options, especially by family members, if legalized on a larger scale. Other remarks question why we should be celebrating "suicide" as a heroic act.

After her announcement to possibly put off the November 1st date for her death here is a random sampling of some comments by various individuals on social media:

“God is never a minute early or late. Let him decide”

“Alright, well she's had enough attn....I'm sure she's benefited from this circus she created.... I.e. free stuff, trips ect....”

“Little Internet fame got her rethinking?”

“I say fight to live as long as possible...”

“I can only hope when it is her time, she has peace. Sad situation, but a very brave woman.”

My own analysis of this is as follows. For this being 2014 we certainly have some archaic notions about death in our society. We have this mental construct of death being a dark hooded villain about to slay our white silk-shirted life. We want life to fight death to the bitter last breath and never surrender.

It makes for a good story but it is nothing but a leftover of mysticism.We want to keep the grim reaper as far away as possible. This may very well be why we often treat the elderly so poorly. Old people remind us of our own eventual mortality and therefore belong put away somewhere in cold sterile environments. Yes, there are many times when the medical needs of our older loved ones are truly beyond what we ourselves can privately provide. However, there is a tendency among our youth crazed society to keep anyone who is anywhere near death as far away as possible. Who wants the grim reaper hanging around in the hallway upstairs?

Well, there is no grim reaper. Death is not a sentient entity and this is not the fifteenth century. Life is not in a never-ending duel with death. These concepts and others like them such as the angel of death do nothing but instill unnecessary fear and diminish the outlook of dying as being part of the natural end of life process. Death is merely a term to describe the final stage of life.

Life comes around to a close for everyone eventually. Unless it is caused by an accident or something akin to a massive heart attack, dying will likely be some sort of a progression as opposed to a moment for many of us. I find it anomalous that we as a society are so obsessed with liberty and for the right to live our lives as we choose except for how to manage the end of our own life cycle. For some reason we must fight to stay alive down to the last puke-choked gasp for air.

We need to reform our attitude toward the sick and the dying. We need to show love and support for the elderly and others in end of life situations. Absolutely, our healthcare system should provide the best means to provide the support of life for anyone who wants it for as long as they want it. This includes healthcare insurance to make sure that no one ever has to struggle with medical bills as part of any decision they may have to face. However, when the instinct of self-preservation starts to wane in the human heart we then need to surround our loved ones with the support they need to let go in the manner in which they are most comfortable. For many, that may mean choosing to die when they are mentally cognizant enough to appreciate the love and support of those around them.

In the words of Forrest Gump, “Momma always said dyin' was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn't.”

*****

Note:

I will be following the Brittany Maynard story and will post updates when possible. If any of you run across more information on this story or have an opinion on this matter please feel free to post it in the comment section or tweet me at @BillyDees  Below is the video that went viral. In case you missed it Brittany Maynard made it to the Grand Canyon.

 

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