By now, all the world knows that Brittany Maynard, diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor earlier this year and who moved to Oregon due to their ‘death with dignity’ law, ended her life at the age of 29. On her Facebook page, she left this final message:
Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!
Oregon voted into law the aforementioned “Death with Dignity Act” back in 1997 which “allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.”
Through this process, Maynard became an advocate for Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life advocacy group who hopes to expand these types of laws nationwide. This conversation that Maynard brings to light is a conversation that must take place. What does it mean to die with dignity?
As you can imagine, the response ranges from admiration for Brittany going out on her own terms and not the cancer’s terms, to genuine sadness at this “suicidal” choice. What are we to think?
During this coverage, others have responded from Brittany’s vantage point—that is, from their being terminally-ill. Kara Tippetts wrote an open letter to Brittany entitled, “Dear Brittany: We Don’t Have to Be So Afraid of Dying that We Choose Suicide.” Tippetts’ letter brought her own round of interviews that were (editorial comment here) quite heroic and courageous—but her story did not gain the traction that Maynard’s brought. I cannot add to what Tippetts wrote, so allow me to quote from her letter:
Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known
In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.
As I sat on the bed of my young daughter praying for you, I wondered over the impossibility of understanding that one day the story of my young daughter will be made beautiful in her living because she witnessed my dying.
That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters — but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed.
Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying. My heart longs for you to know Him in your dying. Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.
For the Christian, death holds dignity not by escaping the lack of our expected quality of life, but by engaging and embracing the death to come that has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55). If the world existed without a God who numbers our days, this would not be an issue. And no matter how much people try to say we’ve moved on, by interacting with this decision and with the number of responses this brought on, what’s clear to me is that there’s something inside us that wonders if this act was as noble as Oregon or the news outlets believe it was.
Life matters. No, it may not be our quality, but with a God who numbers our days, those days matter. Maynard handled this one way. Tippetts handles it another way. Death has dignity when you know the One who conquered sin, death, and hell.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the family left behind as they seek to sort through what just happened with Brittany. The point of this post is not to pile on—for we cannot change what has happened. But the reason for all this coming out is to bring this issue to light. And now we must sort through this ourselves. May God give us wisdom in the days ahead.