I don’t normally like to write about anything too serious; my blogs are usually light hearted observations rather than in-depth emotional journeys, however I read about a woman today that made me want to write about a very serious issue; the right to end your own life if you are terminally ill.
Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with likely stage 4 glioblastoma, which is an aggressive form of brain tumour that, as of yet, no one has survived.
She came into the public eye recently as an advocate for the controversial ‘Right to Die’ movement in the US, which supports a Death with Dignity Act, only currently available in Oregon, Washington and Vermouth and allows terminally ill patients to be prescribed a fatal dose of barbiturates by a doctor, and chose when they end their own life.
And at just 29 years old, the same age that I am today, on November 1st 2014, she did just that, surrounded by friends and family at her home.
“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more,” she wrote on Facebook. “The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”
She goes on to say in an interview with People magazine, that this is not a decision that she came to lightly or quickly, but that her tumour had already taken so much from her, she didn’t want to die in pain, after it had taken her completely.
This, to me, is incredibly brave, and an opinion that I would like to think I too would have if I was ever in Brittany’s situation. To be told that you are going to die at any age, but especially when you are young must make you feel suddenly so out of control of everything. How long do you have and how much of that time will you still be you and able to function? These and I’m sure a million other questions that will flood your mind and overwhelm you.
I am a control freak, and the thought of having to wait for something to take me when it chooses would be just as destroying to me as a person than the illness itself. If I’m definitely going to die anyway, surely it’s better for me and my loved ones that I leave behind that I go with dignity, in a way that I want to be remembered and before I am in extreme pain?
Sure, I may lose days or weeks that I might have survived, but would they be days that we would want? Hooked up to machines, in pain, maybe not even knowing who I am or where I am? To me, that is something that I would be willing to lose.
I’ve read some say that it is selfish, that you are taking away time that your family have with you. MY family and loved ones, I hope, would understand that the me they would be having time with would not be me at all, and that time would not be quality and not time that any of us wants to remember and that they would hopefully fully support my decision, just like Brittany’s did for her.
To be able to choose must take some of the fear out of it as well. The fatal dose of barbiturates you will take will ensure that it is quick and painless. You will also know how long you will have after you take them. That knowledge must be comforting in its own way.
I watched an ex-boyfriends Grandmother die once in a home. She was well into her 90’s and it was just her time, but the hours of listening to her rasping breath and watching her go were not as romanticised as you see in the films at all and I remember thinking that I hoped that wasn’t how it ended for me. Quick, so I don’t know it’s happening, not dragged out and painful.
By far the worst part of cases like Brittany’s is that in most places assisted suicide is illegal, taking your own life isn’t always an option with physically debilitating illnesses and a lot of people don’t want to have their death listed as suicide so they are left with the horrific path of waiting for the inevitable and whatever comes with it.
Why are we all so scared to let someone die? What difference does it make when someone dies, as long as they are accepting of it themselves? The process in Oregon is by no means an easy one and is not a flippant decision by one Doctor. You have to meet guidelines, like being over 18 years old, still of sound mind and suffering from a terminal illness that will kill you in less than six months. You also have to be a resident of Oregon, so for many who shouldn’t be moving out of bed, let alone across a country, you are also spending your last days packing and looking for somewhere to reside, away from family and your home.
You start by making a formal oral request to your Doctor, then at least 15 days later you make another oral request. This is then followed by a written request that has to be signed by two witnesses.
Only then, will a Doctor prescribe the drugs you would need.
What a horrible thing to have to go through. I hope that I or anyone I love ever has to make this choice about their life, but more than that I hope that if I do, and the darkest of times is upon me, my family, friends and carers will support and respect my decisions, whatever they may be.
To allow someone their respect and dignity at a time where everything else has been taken from them, to me, seems like such a basic human kindness that it should not be the headline making taboo that it is, but a well understood and talked about option available to everyone.
To read Brittany’s full story click http://www.people.com/article/brittany-maynard-died-terminal-brain-cancer where there is also a video of Brittany telling her story
For more information on Death with Dignity and the work they do visit http://www.deathwithdignity.org/