By Dave Andrusko
By now, almost everyone knows the name Brittany Maynard. She is 29 years old and as much as any outsider can know by watching videos, she is a lovely woman who is dying of brain cancer– Stage 4 glioblastoma.
For reasons that she has given us and for reasons that are found quietly between the lines of her two videos, she will ask for a lethal compound—not tomorrow, as originally announced, but at some unspecified future date.
In a moment I will talk about her second video—the one in which she said she would not be “assisted” to die November 1. (You can watch the six minute video at www.thebrittanyfund.org.)
By working with the pro-assisted suicide organization Compassion & Choices (in its earlier iteration, The Hemlock Society) to “change” public policy, Maynard invited commentary on the wisdom of allowing the assisted suicide genii out of the box in which it is currently contained in the United States.
So ordinary people like you and me were caught in our own box. No one I know would ever attack Maynard. If you are of a certain age—like me—you have seen many people die, not from old age but from many different diseases. You realize, albeit once removed, something of what Maynard is going through and your heart breaks for her.
Many people have written to encourage her not to take her life. Some are amazingly eloquent. That includes Joni Eareckson Tada who has lived with quadriplegia since she was severely injured in a diving accident in 1967.
But while we would never criticize Maynard, we are angry that Compassion & Choices would exploit her tragedy for its own malevolent purposes. Maynard’s case is what groups like Compassion & Choices live for, a beautiful young woman about to be cut down in the prime of her life.
It matters not that such cases—authentically terminal illnesses—are always the opening wedge after which, once the principal is established, the “right” to be “assisted” expands to a whole panoply of reasons none of which are about terminal illnesses. Compassion & Choice’s agenda extends far beyond terminally ill 29-year-old women.
For understandable but incorrect reasons, Maynard sees criticism of Compassion & Choice and pleas that she not commit assisted suicide as judgmental. No, that is not the case.
It is, in the former instance, an expression of fierce resistance to a very sophisticated anti-life organization. In the latter case, it is motivated by the knowledge that she is not “helping” her family by taking her life before the disease does.
I had not watched her second video until this morning. In age Maynard is exactly half-way between my two oldest daughters; this case hits home with me. (I also realize that she now looks very much like a cousin of mine who passed away decades ago.)
But when I forced myself to watch it, I saw a woman who cares a great deal about her husband and her mother, in particular.
“Well if all my dreams came true I would somehow survive this, but I mostly likely won’t. So beyond that, having been an only child for my mother, I want her to recover from this and not break down, you know, not suffer from any kind of depression. My husband is such a lovely man, I want him to – you know I understand everyone needs to grieve – but I want him to be happy, so I want him to have a family. I hope he moves on and becomes a father.”
Almost as an aside, Maynard says “My goal of course is to influence this policy for positive change, and I would like to see all Americans have access to the same healthcare rights.” (By that she means legalizing assisted suicide across the United States.) Then
“But beyond that public policy goal, my goals really are quite simple, and they mostly do boil down to my family and friends, and making sure they all know how important they are to me and how much I love them.”
One other point which is important but which I will not belabor. Maynard is clearly upset by the changes in her appearance. She is barely taking in more than prescription medications but has, as she tells us, gained over 25 pounds. She talks about not recognizing her own body. With everything else that she is fighting, this must seem like an especially low blow.
A ghoulish spokesman for Compassion & Choices told the AFP news service that Maynard would “likely end her life in the coming weeks.” But for now, as Maynard said,
“I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now.”
Let me conclude with a powerful insight from Eareckson Tada’s open letter to Maynard.
In it Joni returned repeatedly to the disintegrative impact of doctor-assisted suicide, best caught in this paragraph:
This is no way to strengthen care and nurturing in society; rather, such a decision further unravels the cords of compassion that have characterized our nation for so many decades. A right to privacy is radicalized by physician-assisted suicide — it does not strengthen the common good, but only alienates, separates and dismantles us as a people who truly care for one another.”
Nobody, certainly not Joni nor I, would ever minimize the gravity of Ms. Maynard’s medical condition. We would hope, nonetheless, that she would reconsider her decision to make an already terrible tragedy many times worse.