More Time for Maynard-Type Cancer Patients


By Wesley J. Smith

Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith

We have been hearing so much that suicide is “dignity” in the wake of Brittany Maynard’s death by lethal prescription, I thought this story should receive more play.

An experimental device, with no serious side effects, appears to be extending the lives of people with the kind of brain cancer with which Maynard struggled. From the New York Times story:

An electrical device glued to the scalp can slow cancer growth and prolong survival in people with the deadliest type of brain tumor, researchers reported on Saturday.

The device is not a cure and, on average, adds only a few months of life when used along with the standard regimen of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Some doctors have questioned its usefulness. But scientists conducting a new study said the device was the first therapy in a decade to extend life in people with glioblastomas, brain tumors in which median survival is 15 months even with the best treatment.


Patients who wore the device fared better than those who did not: Their median survival was 19.6 months, compared with 16.6 months in those on standard treatment alone. Among those with the device, 43 percent survived two years, compared with 29 percent among those receiving only standard therapy.

That’s no small thing for someone facing imminent death. For example, my dad died of cancer and really valued the extra year that a last ditch chemotherapy unexpectedly gave him.

One study participant has had a remission parallel to the time she participated in the study:

She has been wearing the device since August 2011 — more than three years. Her tumor is gone, and the disease has not returned. She has M.R.I. scans every two months. “I get two months at a time, always thinking I might have a recurrence,” she said.

There is no way to tell whether the device has been keeping her alive, or whether she would have done just as well without it. But when she completed the period she had signed up for in the study, and the researchers told her that she could stop wearing the device if she wanted to, she said, “Oh, yeah, I’m keeping it.”

I would too.

I am reminded of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco and the underground assisted suicide networks that ended the lives of people who would have lived had they waited long enough for the new drugs to come on-line–drugs that literally brought HIV patients back from the brink of death.

This is still experimental and could not pan out. But good grief, there is real hope–and true dignity–in raging “against the dying of the light.”

New treatment breakthroughs happen all the time. Suicide pushers should think about that as they work to convince society that self-destruction equals “dignity.”

Editor’s note. This appeared on Wesley’s great blog.