Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Life and death...


Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook.  I got a bunch of "likes".  A friend of mine left a thoughtful comment basically stating what I think, that a person's exit from this life is personal and should be up to them and their families.  And honestly, I'd take it a step further and say that death should be an individual's decision, as long as they are competent enough to make it for themselves.

I've actually been kind of surprised that there hasn't been more controversy about Brittany Maynard's decision to end her life on November 1.  Sure, there have been religious folks trying to appeal to that decision.  They argue that Brittany isn't letting God decide when she should draw her last breath.  They say she's not giving her family and friends the chance to be used by God in service to her.  And I guess those arguments are fine if you happen to be religious and have people around you who are both willing and able to be of service.  

But not everyone believes in God.  Not everyone sees this kind of catastrophic illness as an opportunity to serve someone else.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have loving friends and relatives who want to help or financial resources to pay those whose job it is to help.  And not everyone can cope with the pain and misery that comes from a devastating disease that robs them of their ability to function independently and with dignity.  

From what I've read, Brittany's cancer causes her extreme pain.  She has a very large brain tumor, which as it grows, puts pressure on brain and causes major headaches.  She has seizures and fatigue.  While I don't know the specifics of Brittany Maynard's illness, I would imagine a brain tumor would eventually start to take away important body functions.  She would probably eventually lose her ability to see... to hear... to speak... to move...  all of the things that make life pleasant would slip away, one by one.  

Once those things start to go, she loses power over her faculties and then other people would have to tend to her.  Then it becomes a lot harder to make decisions because the person making the decisions isn't the one who is actually living with the results.  It may be a burden to have to physically care for a person who is terminally ill, but I think it's an even greater burden and responsibility to make life or death decisions for them.  I think it's much better when a competent adult is able to make those decisions for themselves.  Once a person loses competence, they lose self-determination. 

I think people have the right to believe in whatever religion they want to-- or no religion at all.  They have the right to live life as they see fit.  I don't think religious people have the right to impose their religious beliefs on other people.  You think it's a sin to commit suicide?  Then don't commit suicide.  You think God should decide whether you live or die?  That's fine.  But don't try to make that determination for someone else. 

Of course, a lot of the "right to life" folks don't talk about the fact that left to their own, a lot of people who are terminally ill or grievously injured would die without lingering for months.  It's medical support that keeps them going... support that didn't exist until somewhat recently.  One hundred years ago, we didn't have high tech computers and mechanical equipment that kept people's bodies going indefinitely.  When a person's time came, it was time to go.  And they went...  There was no ethical dilemma because there was no technology available that could forestall death.  

How long would Brittany Maynard live if she had no medical support?  It's hard to tell.  Left alone, the process of death might be faster, but pretty intolerable to experience and to watch.  But make no mistake about it, she is going to die.  Unless there is some kind of a miracle or a new treatment for her disease becomes available before she voluntarily ends her life-- presumably on November 1, 2014-- she is going to perish, as we all will someday.

In the past month, a lot of words have been written about Brittany Maynard.  A lot of those words have been beautiful and complimentary.  Some have not been very kind.  Some have been condescending and some have been supportive and admiring.  Whatever happens to Brittany Maynard, I wish her and her family peace.  It's tragic that she's likely going to die before she turns 30, but from what I've read about her, she's already lived a life fuller than many people ever do.           


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