Blog Post

Young Cancer Victim Lobbies for Euthanasia

brittany maynardCommentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

A 29 year-old newlywed who is dying of terminal brain cancer has decided to move to Oregon where she can end her life on her own terms and has vowed to devote the rest of her days on earth to fighting for the right of all Americans to access assisted suicide.

People Magazine is reporting that Brittany Maynard is planning to end her life on November 1 - one day after her husband's birthday - in order to escape the pain that could accompany her death from a malignant brain tumor known as a stage four glioblastoma.

In an emotional video posted on the website of Compassion & Choices, a euthanasia advocacy group, Maynard explains how she began to have severe headaches shortly after marrying her husband, Dan Diaz, 42. Tests revealed that she had a malignant and aggressive form of brain cancer. Doctors originally gave her anywhere from three to 10 years to live but subsequent tests revealed that the cancer was worse than they thought. As a result, her life expectancy was reduced to just six months.

That was last April. She has already lived beyond the six months but has decided that the kind of death she would suffer from this cancer is not the way she wants to die.

"My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that's out of my control," she says. "I've discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it's a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying."

For instance, if she had the prescribed full brain radiation, her hair would be singed off and her scalp left with first-degree burns.

Hospice care was not much better because there was no guarantee that she wouldn't suffer or avoid suffering the loss of her ability to speak and use her body. Even worse, because she was so young, it was possible that she would linger for quite a while.

"My quality of life, as I knew it, would be gone," she said in this op-ed for CNN.

“After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion. There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left.”

She decided her only choice was to die by assisted suicide.

Unfortunately, she was living in San Francisco and assisted suicide is against the law in the state of California. Maynard decided to move to Oregon, where laws permit a patient to take their own life, and settled there with her husband and mother. Doctors quickly determined that she met the criteria for assisted suicide under the law and gave her a prescription for the medication she will take to end her life on the day of her choosing.

The drugs Brittany will take to end her life. The drugs Brittany will take to end her life.

"I don't wake up every day and look at it," she says with a noticeably uncomfortable chuckle in the video. "It's in a safe spot and I know that it's there when I need it."

However, she insists that what she's doing is not suicide.

"There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die," she told People in an exclusive interview. "I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there's not."

Instead, she is planning to take her life on November 1, the day after her husband's birthday, while lying in their bed and listening to her favorite music.

"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 … and pass peacefully with some music that I like in the background," she added.

Her husband supports her decision and says knowing that the prescription is nearby if and when it is needed has brought him relief and comfort.

In the meantime, Maynard is devoting her remaining days on earth to lobbying for every American to have access to assisted suicide.

The Brittany Maynard Fund, which is an initiative of Compassion & Choices, is reaching out to millennials like her to support assisted suicide laws and bring them to every state in the U.S.

Brittany and Dan on their wedding day. Brittany and Dan on their wedding day.

Sadly, the page is filled with distorted "facts" such as how everyone who takes the prescription drugs simple fall asleep and peacefully pass away. These drugs have been known to cause complications so serious that doctors often have to intervene and give lethal injections to patients in almost 20 percent of cases in other countries, such as Holland, where these medications are prescribed. No one really knows what the complication rate is in Oregon because the law does not require doctors to be present when the drugs are taken; therefore, the state relies on self-reporting alone to determine how many patients actually "passed peacefully."

The site also claims that fears of people being coerced into ending their lives have not materialized, but this too is a disingenuous statement. Flaws in the law's informed consent laws have been cited by numerous legal and medical scholars such as Matthew R. Kenney, Ph.D., Clinical Ethics Consultant, St. Francis Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

"The bill itself cautions against coercion stating 'Any person who coerces or exerts undue influence on a patient to complete a request for aid in dying …is guilty of murder' (RB 6645, Sec. 14, b)," Kenney cited in testimony he gave to the state's Public Health Commission when they were deliberating a similar law.

"The risk of undue influence by medical professionals, family members, and society, especially if the dying patient views themselves as an emotional or financial burden to others, is significant, and no policy will be able to completely mitigate against this."

Kenney is not only an expert in medical ethics, but he's also a Catholic who beautifully illustrates Church teaching on this subject through a poignant recounting of his wife's death.

"I was asked to submit testimony to this committee on behalf of St. Francis Medical Center, the largest Catholic hospital in New England, and also as a professional bioethicist and educator. However, I also and perhaps most primarily write as a widower who accompanied his wife through chronic and terminal illness, and joined with her as she struggled to maintain her sense of worth, dignity, and autonomy. I was with her as she lay dying in my arms. More importantly, I was with her as she struggled to live.

"Fundamentally, providing 'compassionate aid in dying' as this bill is called, means helping the terminally ill to see that they are not disposable. The dying have a lot to teach the living about life, if we choose to listen. We promote compassionate care for the most vulnerable among us when we affirm their existence, listen to and acknowledge their fears, aggressively treat their pain and help them alleviate their spiritual and existential suffering, not by assisting them with suicide."

© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®