Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who ended her own life yesterday in Oregon before her terminal and painful brain cancer could prevent her from doing so, has aroused condemnation once again from those who think dying can be averted through a miracle when medical science has run out of possibilities. Unless of course God chooses to let you linger for weeks, months and even years in debilitating pain. For the delusional religious, it’s his choice not ours.
Such sentiments were expressed by one group, Priests for Life, who feel the Bible has forbidden anyone to die until the deity of ancient scriptures has put his seal of approval on it.
Janet Morana, executive director [for] Priests for Life, said in a statement after hearing of Maynard’s death:
“We are saddened by the fact that this young woman gave up hope, and now our concern is for other people with terminal illnesses who may contemplate following her example. Our prayer is that these people will find the courage to live every day to the fullest until God calls them home. Brittany’s death was not a victory for a political cause. It was a tragedy, hastened by despair and aided by the culture of death invading our country.”
Yet the people who were closest to Ms. Maynard and knew her far better than any religious fundamentalist understood what she was undergoing and that a lack of hope wasn’t the determining factor in ending her life by her own volition.
Maynard told The Associated Press last month that she and her husband and other relatives accepted her choice.
“I think in the beginning my family members wanted a miracle; they wanted a cure for my cancer.” she said. “When we all sat down and looked at the facts, there isn’t a single person that loves me that wishes me more pain and more suffering.”
Who wouldn’t want a miracle or a cure for themselves or their child who is dying long before they have lived a full life? But no cure existed for Ms. Maynard’s advanced stage of cancer and miracles are only declared as such by people who want to believe a supernatural power is in full control of our lives.
Yet by this mode of thought the same unseen deity apparently either lost control of Ms. Maynard’s health or chose to give her the brain cancer that was bringing on “increasingly frequent and longer seizures, severe head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms” according to Sean Crowley, a spokesman for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices. You would have to believe this is a cruel god who would want this for someone in the last throes of their life.
I don’t wish ill-will for people who have come to incorporate the ancient beliefs of a people who, when they wrote their scriptures, held that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth. Those scriptures are full of beautiful metaphors and inspirational allegory. And though even today they can help give meaning to many people who have lost hope in their lives there is nothing literal in them that says God and only God can end a life. If that were true and God is really in control of everything then Timothy McVeigh and Mohamed Atta and 18 other Islamic terrorists were merely vessels of this higher power. Enemy combatants who claim the same god cannot say Yaweh is on each side without being viewed as a sadistic god.
The Bible and those who interpret it to define life today step beyond a line when carried into situations like Ms. Maynard’s and the millions of others who endure excruciating pain from terminal illnesses and diseases. Scripture at one time was the only information that societies had to guide their lives. But we now have a plethora of scientific data that has dispelled much of what the ancients viewed as the physical world. Plagues are no longer seen as punishment for a sinful people but may simply be the result of unsanitary living conditions.
We know now, even those people of faith, that we can control events. If some want to believe that our choices are influenced by an other worldly being then so be it. But we all need to come to an understanding that choices that benefit us can and often do hurt others.
It can be the choices of corrupt people whose actions enhance their own personal well-being as it deprives others the essentials of life. It could also be the choices of well-intentioned people like the European missionaries who brought their ideas of faith with them to convert the native inhabitants not realizing they were transmitting diseases that would kill the natives. Or it can be the choice of loved ones who, like Ms. Maynard, chooses to end her life rather than enduring unbearable pain because someone else believes that is what’s expected of them.
Societal rules that guide our choices should help to foster life and good fortune but with the knowledge that not all aspects of life can be covered under all circumstances. Dying with dignity is one of those areas. People should be able to choose end-of-life methods for themselves, not when they are still young and depressed about how their lives are turning out, but when they are terminally ill and enduring unbearable pain.
I cannot conceive of a God who would want us to suffer needlessly no more than I could a God who thinks rape is a form of conception. My rendering of the Bible just can’t justify it and we should not allow others to define these actions for us. If indeed, as some believe, we are creatures of free will, then by right, choosing our death is part of that free will. We can educate and raise our children to appreciate all that life has to offer and hope that when that life gets tough they will fall back on words of encouragement to get them through.
Brittany Maynard was not depressed. She wanted to live. Her heart and her mind screamed for life. But her body had the final say. The physical reality could not be undone by simply willing it away.
I don’t know how religious Brittany Maynard was but I would be willing to bet that she invoked all that she could with the unseen forces to grant her an end to her brain cancer. But when it became clear that this was not having the desired effect, then and only then did she choose to die in a manner that prevented her family from seeing her suffer miserably in her last weeks and days.
Unlike those who choose to believe God will frown on her choice to end her life on her terms, I and millions like me choose to believe that any sane being would applaud the courage it takes to end the only life we know for certain. A life that can no longer be endured through the misfortune of circumstances beyond our control.