If you spend any time on Facebook then you've probably seen Brittany Maynard's face pop up on your newsfeed over the last few days. And your Facebook friends sharing links to stories about her have probably included supportive and adoring captions like the one I just saw a couple of minutes ago: "Wow. What an inspiring story! Brittany, you are so brave!!"
You'll be excused if you've chosen not to click and read further. We are all so overloaded with social media-provided 'inspiration' that it's getting hard to ingest any more of it. But before you continue on with your day, harboring the vague impression that someone out there named Brittany Maynard is apparently performing a heroic and awesome deed of some kind, I think you should know what it is, exactly, that has all of your friends so inspired:
On November 1st of this year, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard is going to kill herself.
With the help of a doctor and a poison pill, she is going to end her life.
Your friends are impressed with a woman's plan to commit suicide.
Are you alarmed yet?
This undated photo provided by the Maynard family shows Brittany Maynard. The terminally ill California woman moved to Portland, Ore., to take advantage of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, which was established in the 1990s. Maynard wants to pass a similar law in California and has turned to advocacy in her final days. (AP Photo/Maynard Family)
Certainly, her tale is tragic and terrible. While I don't share the near-universal enthusiasm for her decision to opt for euthanasia, I do feel an immense amount of sympathy for her.
Here's a brief synopsis:
At the beginning of this year, Brittany was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Initially, the doctors told her that she had 10 years to live, but 10 years soon became a few months as the disease spread more rapidly than anticipated.
After 'months of research' she decided that she'd rather 'die with dignity' than try and fight the disease -- which would, no doubt, involve a great deal of suffering and pain. So she and her husband moved to Oregon, where doctor assisted suicide is legal, and penciled the date of her death into their calendar.
She picked November 1st because her husband's birthday is October 30th.
She recorded a video for a pro-euthanasia group and described what her final moments will look like.
"I plan to be surrounded by my immediate family, which is my husband and my mother and my step-father and my best friend, who is also a physician. I will die upstairs, in my bedroom that I share with my husband, with my mother and my husband by my side and pass peacefully with some music that I like in the background.”
I've never had terminal cancer. I can't imagine the fear and torment, the misery, the panic, the dread. I pray for her and for everyone afflicted with this horrendous illness. I am very, very sorry that she has been saddled with this burden. It's certainly a heavier cross than any that I have ever been asked to carry (though my time may come, sooner or later).
And given her condition, it will be easy for anyone to accuse me of being cruel and thoughtless for criticizing her choice. But, keep in mind, none of us would know about her choice if she hadn't also chosen to publicize it. Brittany has written op-eds and recorded PSAs and established foundations all with the objective of turning euthanasia into something both legal and culturally accepted.
She is a cancer patient, and she is also a very compelling spokeswoman for suicide. It is the latter point that makes it necessary for those of us who oppose the Culture of Death to speak up and say something here. Our silence could be deadly, literally and figuratively.
If there's going to be any dissenting voices at all -- anyone chiming in to mention that perhaps we shouldn't treat suicide like a legitimate medical solution for cancer -- now would be the time to hear from them. So far, the reaction and the reporting on Brittany's case have been disturbingly one-sided.
CBS played part of Brittany's euthanasia advertisement and, rather than treating it like something controversial, called her testimony 'powerful' and agreed that she ought to be 'applauded.'
Other supposedly unbiased publications have taken to substituting the word 'euthanasia' with the phrase 'dying with dignity,' which is what you might call doctor assisted suicide if you're advocating for the practice, rather than reporting on it.
Across national media and social media, I've been sickened to see that suicide is now most commonly described with words like 'dignity,' 'bravery,' 'courage,' and 'strength.' Popular refrains apparently only ever used to justify some form of murder and destruction have been trotted out once again: 'it's her body,' 'it's her choice,' 'it's her life.'
If you read the comments under most articles about this case, you'll find a horrifying and blind adoration for euthanasia, with adjectives and phrases applied to Brittany that we usually reserve for war heroes and martyrs. A sampling from Raw Story:
This woman is f**king FEARLESS and selfless. Respect.
I admire her courage and only hope I'm as strong if I am faced with the same decision for myself.
What a brave woman. Dignity and peace.
I applaud her courage and honesty and bravery in the face of a horrible situation.
But I guess, in our modern enlightened society, Brittany Maynard is a martyr. She is a martyr for the cause of self-destruction.
I am terrified to think that my children will grow up in a culture that openly venerates suicide with this much unyielding passion. There are so many problems with this attitude, and so many disastrous implications to lauding a person as 'brave' and 'courageous' for killing themselves, that I hardly know where to begin in addressing it all. Maybe it makes sense just to start with the most obvious:
If you are saying that it is dignified and brave for a cancer patient to kill themselves, what are you saying about cancer patients who don't? What about a woman who fights to the end, survives for as long as she can, and withers away slowly, in agony, until her very last breath escapes her lungs?
Is that person not brave? Is that person not dignified? I thought we applaud that kind of person. I thought we admire her courage and tenacity. Sorry, you can't advance two contradictory narratives at once. If fighting cancer is brave then it is brave PRECISELY BECAUSE she is fighting it rather than giving up and choosing death.
In other words, if struggling against cancer until the bitter end is an act of courage, then it can't also be an act of courage to opt out and 'leave on your own terms.' What makes one courageous is that it is not the other. What makes one commendable is that the other choice exists, yet the heroic individual takes the more admirable route.
So which is it? Which path should we admire?
Don't you understand what you are saying? She is dying with dignity, which means dying of cancer is not dignified. You are accusing people who die of cancer of having no dignity. That is what you are saying. Own it. Confront it. Take responsibility for the words you use.
And what does it mean, anyway, to say that euthanasia is 'leaving on your own terms'? Do we somehow achieve a victory over death by using it to escape the pain of life? 'Your own terms'? The terms of the drug maker who concocted the poison pill, perhaps, but your own? Hardly. None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I'm sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.
But this is not anyone's fate, because nobody writes the terms for their own existence. We have free will but we do not own ourselves, and we certainly cannot take ownership of ourselves by obliterating ourselves. That's like trying to write a book with an eraser.
We are given life, we take part in life, we participate in life, but we do not own our lives. We can't take possession of our lives like a two-year-old grabbing a toy from his friend and shouting 'Mine!' Our lives are bigger than that, thank God. Your life is not some incidental occurrence, or an accidental mutation, or a meaningless cause in a long string of meaningless effects.
Now, I admit, if we are nothing and we came from nothing and will return to nothing, then I suppose suicide makes some sort of sense. It returns the body to our natural state of nothingness. It brings us home into the abyss, where there is no self, no reason, no existence. But most people don't think that. Most of us are not radical nihilists. Even Brittany Maynard is not, which is why she says she will die and go on to 'whatever is next.' She knows, deep down, that there is another dimension to this reality of ours, a deeper significance beneath the surface of everything. She knows, like I believe we all know, that we're woven into the tapestry of creation -- we play a role that we don't fully understand, our decisions have ramifications that we can't comprehend, and our lives have a meaning beyond whatever we find in it.
So if God reached out from the depths of eternity to hand us this life of ours, how can we think it acceptable -- or worse, meritable -- to throw it out before our time is finished?
Inevitably, that's what this conversation comes down to. The old questions. The oldest questions. What is life? Why are we here? What's the point of it all?
If you celebrate suicide, then you have answered these questions: life is nothingness, we are here for no reasons, and there is no point.
If you answer differently, then you must come to the conclusion that life has inherent value. That's the concept that so many people struggle with nowadays. They scratch their heads and wonder why some of us kooky Christians get so upset about things like abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. For some reason they won't listen when we try to tell them: life has value. It is a thing of value. It is worth something. It is worth something beyond our feelings about it, beyond circumstance, beyond context, beyond sickness, beyond development, beyond age. LIFE HAS VALUE.
This isn't just a Christian concept. It is the concept on which western civilization rests. Every noble ideal -- justice, fairness, equity, compassion, charity -- all of it, all of it, is grounded in the notion that life, human life, has intrinsic value. Not value according to its usefulness, or value according to convenience, or value according to how enjoyable it is. Value. Life is valuable because it is life. If you deny this, then you deny everything. There is no reason for justice, fairness, equity, compassion, or charity if human life has no value, or merely a value contingent upon whatever parameters we've arbitrarily assigned. There can be no justification even for your 'human rights' if we are all commodities whose stocks fall or rise like something that can be bought, sold, and traded.
And what about the medical field? The Hippocratic Oath? Our medical practitioners must respect the dignity of life -- not the dignity of suicide, but of life -- or else they will be at odds with their own profession. This is one of the worst things about euthanasia. After all, euthanasia happens not when the individual decides that her life has no value, but when the medical and governmental authorities decide it.
If a perfectly healthy person walked into their doctor's office and asked to be put down, no doctor in any state would consent to it. The euthanasia customer must fall under certain guidelines laid out by the medical field. In other words, the doctor must agree that her life is worthless. Are we really too dense to see what sort of nightmarish conflict of interest we are encouraging here?
Imagine having stage 4 cancer and visiting a doctor who, just a moment earlier, 'prescribed' a poison pill to another person in your exact same situation. Only a moment before, this doctor said to someone, 'yes, I agree that your life should end.' And now you expect him to do everything in his power to help you extend the very thing that he just diagnosed as pointless?
How can we allow doctors to prescribe death? How can death ever be seen as a legitimate treatment option? If we legalize euthanasia across the country, we fundamentally change the very point and purpose of medicine. Medicine goes from something aimed at helping us live, to something aimed at helping us die.
Where do you think this leads? If euthanasia is legal, and if it is only legal under certain strict circumstances, then we are saying that life, under those circumstances, is objectively undesirable. And if we say that life, under those circumstances, is objectively undesirable, then it is undesirable regardless of whether the patient desires it. The bridge from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia is obvious. I suspect when the time comes that patients are put down whether they wish to be or not, many in our society will hardly object. We are already cheering on Brittany Maynard's suicide because we apparently think it foolish or even cowardly to live when suffering is certain and death is on the horizon.
Brittany is now promoting a euthanasia campaign with a group called Compassion and Choices. Compassion and Choices is an organization that advocates not just for doctor assisted suicide for the terminally ill, but also for people who have no physical ailments at all. So what I'm talking about here isn't a slippery slope, but an explicit objective of the pro-euthanasia side.
This is wrong. It's all wrong. The public reaction to her choice is even worse. Delusional, disappointing, horrifying.
Death is not a solution. Suicide is not dignified. Killing yourself to escape suffering is not brave. It is, in fact, the antithesis of bravery. It is the exact opposite of courage. If suicide is heroic, then everything we've previously called heroic isn't.
With all of that said, I acknowledge that the other option -- in Brittany's case and in so many other cases -- is a likely short life of intense pain and inconceivable suffering. I understand the desire to avoid such a fate, but we should not act upon that desire. Life is to be lived like a cup we drink until the last drop. I don't want to descend into clichés here, but I know I'm not the only person who has watched many a video and read many an account by and about cancer patients who endured and fought through the pain, and found amidst it all something valuable. They discovered that every minute meant something -- in fact, they meant more than any of the other minutes they'd lived in health and prosperity.
We hear these testimonies and we nod our heads. But do we not really believe it? Do we think these people are liars? How can we applaud and then turn around and say that Brittany Maynard is the dignified and courageous one?
Do we even hear ourselves anymore?
It's all very sad.
I'm sad for Brittany, I'm sad for our culture, and I'm sad for anyone who sees bravery in suicide.
It is brave to fight, to live, to keep going down our road until there is no more road left. That is brave.
Fortunately, it is not too late for this woman. She is still with us, and the world is better for it because her life is meaningful and important. Maybe we should all be telling her that, rather than telling her it's a good idea for her to kill herself.