Dying with Dignity

I admire the courage of Brittany Maynard.Death with Dignity

Brittany has chosen to be the determiner of when and how she will die. She has a terminal and incurable form of brain cancer. The normal progression of the illness would be slow and very painful. She and her husband moved to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s Death With Dignity Act (DWDA). The law allows” terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.” To qualify, a person must be deemed mentally competent and a resident of Oregon. Brittany and her husband moved to Oregon to qualify for this option.

Photo courtesy of the Brittany Maynard Fund.

And I’m grateful that we have other states that allow people the choice to die with dignity. I know this is a charged topic, but I would do the same as Brittany. My mother has put a clause in her will that states she not be kept alive with machines. My brother and I have the legal right to ensure she not be kept alive simply by machines.

Brittany and Compassion and Choices have partnered to promote choice for more people with the Brittany Maynard Fund. On the site, you can read Brittany’s words and more background on her life, this decision and the dignity movement. The key is to offer the choice. No one is forcing people to die this way. The movement simply wants to offer people a choice through education, removing the fear and stigma, and adding supportive laws. Advocates of DWDA, strongly reject the idea that this is suicide. As Brittany and others have clearly stated, they would love to live, but they can’t, so they choose DWD as a means to reduce suffering and have some measure of control.

Here is another thoughtful reflection on the topic by Joanna Rothkopf of Salon magazine. It seems timely that I just watched the movie You Don’t Know Jack. The movie chronicles the story of Dr. Jack Kevorkian who famously facilitated suicide for his patients who wanted to end their suffering and was ultimately sent to prison for his actions. Polling suggests 70% of the population support aid for dying.

Would you choose death with dignity, fight it to the end, surrender to the process, or maybe use the condition as a spiritual practice? Personally, I’m grateful that more people are being offered the choice of death with dignity. And I’m very grateful for my current health and choices.

What do you think about assisted death? I’d love to hear your views in the comments below.

 

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32 thoughts on “Dying with Dignity

  1. so agree with your article. Everyone should have the right to die with grace. I believe people over 75 should have the right automatically. Many suffer alone and in great pain until at some distant date death does finally take them. Just last week an elderly lady in the UK starved herself to death, because she could not stand her pain anymore, while her many pleas to end her life through medical compassion was denied… Years ago people died in their sixties – and at that time the body was considered old. This is still true today, bodies and brains begin to lose their fitness quite dramatically during the sixth decade. Thus, why should we expect 70-80 year old people to live on way beyond what is considered old age.. Please feel free to correct this comment, i am writing on a lap top, and cannot correct my typos… thanks Eve

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  2. Hi Eve, thanks for your compassionate response. I too have seen elderly people suffer immensely at the end of their life. I don’t think we have to deteriorate mentally and physically automatically in our 70s and 80s, but that is a different post. 🙂 If we do, through disease or old age, why not give us the option of ending our suffering.

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    • I was speaking to a doctor in the UK the other day about this same subject – his opinion was the same. He said he was not afraid to die, and that to allow people to go on into their 80-90’s when in pain or with dementia, was deplorable. Not only to they suffer but the cost of keeping them alive is huge, and often the old are not well-off enough to meet the needs of care. Thus, they often die feeling they are a burden, and sometimes even through abuse. I know the holy books say ending life is wrong. But I don’t think it is at all wrong in the aged, I say it is a matter of compassion and courage. Our natural lives do not expend much beyond the 7th decade in regards to quality. Only those who have money and position can afford the luxury of life in old age nowadays. (We see that in the British Royals.) Of course those lucky people who are exceptional families that care for them are lucky and probably their life-quality is wholly different… Eve

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      • Well stated Eve. The mental, emotion and financial costs of extending life with no real gain in quality of life is what bothers me, and not simply in these end of life cases. And as Robert mentioned, who knows how we will respond when it’s our life or a close family member. Thanks again for your thoughtful replies. blessings, Brad

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  3. Most all of us can wish for is the end of our days be relatively pain free and that we can retain a sense if dignity.
    I fully agree with the freedom of choice to end ones own life under medical supervision if suffering from acute and irreversible pain. Here in the UK we do not have this freedom.
    How would I personally handle things if I were in that situation? I would hope I could use it as a spiritual practice but who knows, I have never experience prolonged, acute pain, my choice might be different under those circumstances. Who if us can truly say if we are blessed with good health?
    What we do with our bodies is down to our own conscience, we do not belong to the State, it should not impose it’s will upon us.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply Robert. I’m sorry that you don’t have the choice in the UK. Currently, only 5 of 50 US states give us the choice, but it’s a growing idea. And I totally agree that we probably don’t know how we would respond until it happens. There are many factors that could influence the choice beyond the law, our conscience, health, families and more. Ideally, we would have the choice over our own body and life.

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  4. Dying with dignity is indeed a very charged topic, and I’m not entirely sure what my view is, but in the end, I do feel a person should have the choice to do as they wish with their own lives, and with their death, so I guess that means I’m for it. 😉 I’m not familiar with Brittany’s story, maybe I’ll have to read up on it…

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  5. Yes Julie, it’s charged, and hard to know from my safe perch of good health and middle age. I have seen some extreme suffering and it seems more compassionate to allow people the choice. I encourage you to visit the foundation’s link. Thanks for caring.

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  6. As heartbreaking as her story is, I’m glad she has the option to exit on her terms. My husband and I are on the same page as you, Brad. We don’t want to be a burden to anyone, languishing in a body or mind that is a hopeless version of what it once was. Quality of life is far greater than quantity. Thanks for this thought-provoking share!!

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  7. It’s really too bad that Brittany and her husband had to leave their home in order to legally have the choice she wanted. I find it very interesting that the majority of people who get a prescription to take (or so I read) do not end up using it–but they want to have it, just in case they really need it. I can understand that.

    My own view is that I don’t really have a problem with Oregon’s law, but I don’t think this is an option that should be freely available to everyone over 75. My mother is 70 and doing well; I have no doubt she would be incensed at the idea that in 5 years, she is free to go anytime, due to her presumably worn-out body. My grandmother lived to 95 in her own home, and only in the last few years was there a change in mental acuity.

    I believe we come here many times, and if our souls intend to learn a lesson–and some of our standard lessons are learned by being helpless, which sometimes happens in old age–and it doesn’t happen this time, I believe there are plenty more opportunities where this one came from. I think there’s already a lot of largely unrecognized choice associated with dying (but perhaps some people are more skilled at this than others). My grandfather, who had lymphoma, died very shortly after his doctor told him they had run out of treatment options (I believe within about a week). The Bible speaks of someone ‘turning his face to the wall’ and dying, and that’s exactly what he did.

    I’ve also read repeatedly in different sources about ‘exit windows,’ which are pre-planned times when we make a decision whether or not to leave this life.

    I put a lot into doing my best to make sure my dogs are able to die a good death when they are ready, and I think that humans should have the same option. I think it’s important to take the decision thoughtfully, and not take the step before the lessons of this life are learned.

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  8. I appreciate your thoughtful response Heather. It sounds like you have considered this idea more than most, including me. I’m not sure if I believe in reincarnation, and predestined life plans. Regardless, from a practical and humanist viewpoint, I prefer that we have the choice, ideally with legal and medical support. To me, it’s more about compassion and relieving suffering. And, who knows how I would respond if faced with such difficult health choices.

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  9. It is such a difficult topic… I think dignity is something crucial, and we must respect individual freedom. We are our choices, and will be judged for them, for all of them… and I’m sure that some of these choice, even the most terrible is more than forgiven: it is understood and loved… thanks for this moving post Brad! ♥

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  10. Thank you for sharing this with such heart, Brad. I’m not sure where I fall in all of this, but I respect the lives and choices of those who do.

    With blessings,
    Dani

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  11. Pingback: Rest in Peace Brittany Maynard | On My Front Porch

  12. I’m astounded that people who, however well-meaning they are about it, are pious and self-righteous in condemning those who choose to die can often be the same ones who are horrified at human suffering in other circumstances. The disconnect can be mystifying. Until we’re able to make our ability to alleviate pain and suffering and improve the quality of life for those who live without hope of recovery of any of those aspects, we should spend less of our time playing God by prolonging life beyond when it used to last naturally and more of it on actual compassionate relief and healing. I’m not thrilled at the prospect of anyone needing to make the choice to die before it happens “naturally,” but it seems far preferable to me to their prolonged, profound suffering and the shared misery for all who love them.

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  13. While I agree with the other commenters, i think the reason why people in charge of laws limit the freedom to die, is that we all have bad days. Our lives inevitably have ups and downs. And, sometimes it can be a long time that we are totally and completely without hope, and sometimes even years pass, but then we actually do find happier and healthier days. So, I think that this is the reason why the laws are the way that they are, if this concern was adequately addressed, then it might be more open to discussion in our legal system. Please understand I’m not arguing one way or another, I’m just saying that I believe most people are basically good people, and if I try to understand the people I disagree with, oftentimes I find out we actually agree on most things, just ‘how’ to get to the same goal is usually the only difference of point of view. Wonderful people here, the comments have a lot of compassion.

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    • Hi Pathfinder. Thanks for visiting and offering an interesting and compassionate view on a challenging topic. Yes, we have bad days and ideally wouldn’t make important choices like this one on a whim. I would still prefer to have the option as in the 5 states that currently offer the choice. I agree that most people are good and creating an open dialog is a great tool to find our connections. Thanks for contributing. blessings, Brad

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