Brittany Maynard has renewed the discussion on the ethics of assisted suicide and assisted death after she wrote an op-ed piece for CNN sharing her story about her decision to take her life early next month. Assisted suicide and assisted death are different, and I think the distinction is important, and in my opinion, shapes the morality of them both. Generally speaking assisted suicide would be the aiding of a person to take their own life. Usually, this person is in some sort of severe pain for which medication does not mitigate, but they are not necessarily dying from the condition. Assisted death, or euthanasia, is the aiding of a person to take their own life who may or may not be in severe pain but are nonetheless dying from a terminal illness.
(CNN) — On New Year’s Day, after months of suffering from debilitating headaches, I learned that I had brain cancer.
I was 29 years old. I’d been married for just over a year. My husband and I were trying for a family.
Our lives devolved into hospital stays, doctor consultations and medical research. Nine days after my initial diagnoses, I had a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of my temporal lobe. Both surgeries were an effort to stop the growth of my tumor.
In April, I learned that not only had my tumor come back, but it was more aggressive. Doctors gave me a prognosis of six months to live.
Because my tumor is so large, doctors prescribed full brain radiation. I read about the side effects: The hair on my scalp would have been singed off. My scalp would be left covered with first-degree burns. My quality of life, as I knew it, would be gone.
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.
Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time even though cancer is eating my mind. I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months. And my family would have had to watch that.
I did not want this nightmare scenario for my family, so I started researching death with dignity. It is an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It would enable me to use the medical practice of aid in dying: I could request and receive a prescription from a physician for medication that I could self-ingest to end my dying process if it becomes unbearable.
I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.
Sometimes it’s not easy to differentiate between declaring something that is morally good or benign and something that is immoral but should be legally permissible. Many actions, while morally wrong, should not be criminalized; and legalization of an act is not a moral endorsement. However, it would seem that legalizing a certain act or behavior does tend to shape public opinion. Of course, correlation isn’t always causation, but support for both same-sex marriage and abortion began to noticeably increase as laws began to permit them.
My first impression is to criminalize both. There is just something wrong with helping a person take their own life. On the Christian view — my view, man is made in the image of God and therefore, his life is valuable and should be protected and encouraged. Taking one’s own life runs contrary to its purpose, and in some fashion takes for themself the role of the One who gives life and takes it.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to not have sympathy for someone who is suffering from a terminal illness who has endured as much pain and suffering as they believe they can. And in so much as one’s liberty does not infringe on another’s, a person’s autonomy should be respected.
I suppose there is a case that can be made to legally protect assisted death, which I’m more inclined to be sympathetic to, but not necessarily assisted suicide. Certain requirements could be made before allowing such a decision to be actualized. Safe guards such as mental and emotional competency evaluations as well as medical diagnosis by more than one physician. It would be essential to have assurance that the patient is of sound mind and not simply depressed due to their situation, free from coercion, and certain of their prognosis.
Many are calling Maynard courageous and brave. I’m not so sure. As far as it goes, courage is facing adversity and pushing though it. This isn’t what she’s doing. And while I think that I can be persuaded in either direction as far as the law is concerned, I don’t think we should hold people up who make these decisions as brave and courageous. Broadly speaking, I lean towards legal protection for liberty’s sake, but prohibition for the sake of morality. This is one of those issues that I could be persuaded on.