Why should we let people commit suicide?
The most recent cover of People® magazine has a full cover photo of Brittany Maynard, who has chosen to end her life rather than suffer through the end stages of cancer and just take pain medication until things end “naturally”. Blogger Ashley E. McGuire attacks both Brittany and People in this post.
I don’t like going after someone personally, and I don’t intend to try to shame or attack Ms. McGuire. I do hope to give some perspective on a more compassionate view, as I take exception to her proselytizing to someone else over something I gather from her article she has not personally experienced.
I have lost five very dear people to cancer, and know many more still fighting with it. Cancer destroys in a huge swath, hurting not just the person with the disease, but family, friends and community as well. The disease itself can affect motor and brain function, and the treatments themselves can sometimes speed a patient’s demise. Even if they don’t, the medicines used seriously weaken a person, and can cause all manner of mental issues like strange mood swings and even hallucinations. There are also the emotional impact of disfiguring issues such as losing hair and, in the case of breast and cervical cancers, parts of the body that a person feels makes them who they are. Sometimes a person has to chose between getting treatment and losing an unborn child or refusing treatment and not living to see the child born. In short, cancer is not a life event to be taken lightly, and it is unfairly judgmental to preach to someone afflicted with this about how they chose to deal with it. Especially in Mrs. Maynard’s case, where the doctors have told her her only option left is administering pain medication until her body shuts down.
Ms. McGuire at one point criticized People® for making Mrs. Maynard appear to be a “daredevil” in this decision she has made. She also unfairly castigated the magazine by comparing Robin Williams’ suicide (which I posted about here) to what Mrs. Maynard was planning. It is unfair to draw comparisons to two vastly different people going through completely disparate struggles in their lives simply because they both chose for their own reasons to end their lives. That would be like comparing the work of people like Jonas Salk to human experimentation in Nazi death camps because they both involved medical work.
Ms. McGuire’s convictions no doubt stem from her religious beliefs, which she is wholly entitled to and I will respect those beliefs as I would ask anyone who may not agree with me to respect mine. However, I know that part of what her beliefs entail is compassion. I don’t expect her to abandon her faith when she comes across a story like Mrs. Maynard’s. I do, however, think she should deeply consider ALL the tenets of her faith and not so hurtfully castigate someone whose experience in life she has no reference point to understand.
I guess my biggest problem lies in this. No one would question someone ending the suffering of a pet that has no more treatment options. So why must we stuff a human being full of painful medications that may do more harm than good and make them slowly waste to a skeletal shell that only vaguely resembles a person, all in the name of some ephemeral ideal that shows no love, compassion, or mercy? From what I have read in the Bible, the same book Ms. McGuire’s faith is based upon, the most important thing Jesus wanted people to do was love each other. Is forcing someone to endure what amounts to physical torture just to wait for nature to take away something that can be more peacefully and humanely done with a direct intervention at all loving? Where is the mercy and compassion in that?
I want to be clear, by the way, I am in no way advocating anyone end their life for any reason, including cancer. I fully believe a person should exhaust every option before looking at the idea of suicide, doctor assisted or otherwise. I do, however, think there is a point that if a person is truly just prolonging suffering they should have the option to go quietly should they so choose.
I hope and pray Ms. McGuire never has to deal with the specter of cancer, just as I would not wish it on anyone else. Considering there are about 10,000 new diagnoses each year, and currently over 14 million people living with cancer in some form in our country, odds are it will impose itself upon her life in some fashion someday. I hope and pray when it does, that the people around her show her more mercy, compassion, and love than she is willing to afford Mrs. Maynard.