You might have heard the story of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year old newlywed who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and who plans on killing herself on November 1st. It appears that her decision to kill herself in a very public manner is in service to her ideological desire that the laws of the United States be changed to make it easier for people to kill themselves. This is a very sad – pathetic – story to hear.
Upon first hearing the story, my first thought was: what a waste of time. The time this lady is spending on planning and marketing her death is time which she could well spend more usefully. You know, loving her husband, her family and her friends. Doing things as she is physically able. Perhaps even developing ideas to help other people who will be faced with her problem in the future. Each minute she spends on her death is a wasted minute – she won’t get them back.
Here is the news flash for everyone: we’re all going to die. Not a one of us will get out of life alive. To greatly concern one’s self with death is morbid. After all, none of us know when we’re going to die – not even Brittany Maynard. Oh, sure; she’s planned it for the 1st, but she could just as well get hit by a bus tomorrow, or her cancer could take a vastly worse turn and finish the job by October 31st. On the other hand, she might not get hit by the bus – and her cancer could take a vastly better turn and instead of having six months to live, maybe she’d have nine. Or twelve. Or even two more years – but if she goes through with her plan, she’ll never know, and her family and friends will be bereft, perhaps long before they should been.
In the old days, the Catholic Church would not bury a suicide in consecrated ground. To modern ears, this seems harsh and unreasonable, but the thought behind it was this: a suicide is the worst sort of murderer because a suicide murders the whole world. To kill yourself, when not an act of merest insanity, isn’t the act of a brave man, but of a coward – a self-centered coward, at that. Because life isn’t working out as a person wants, that person has decided to kill everyone, and every thing. No person is loved enough, no sunset is beautiful enough, to keep the suicide willing to endure just one more day.
For people like Ms. Maynard, the argument is this: “I don’t want to suffer pain and debilitation, nor do I want my friends and family to endure the pain of my long, slow death”. To me, that argument is a lot of nonsense. My mother endured a painful and debilitating death from COPD – many was the time my heart was wrung with pity for her suffering. Many is the time she wished for an end to it all. But had she offed herself in say, June of 2003, then I wouldn’t have been able to make her that last dish of my special mashed potatoes shortly before she died in December of 2003, nor would she had been able to rally herself painfully to make for me one, last batch of mom’s pea soup in October of 2003. And after she died, after one last, terrible night of suffering, all I wanted was five more minutes – even knowing they would have been painful minutes, and as my mother loved me, I’m sure she wished she would have given those five, painful, additional minutes.
We must keep in mind that, in reality, none of us can predict the future. We simply do not know what might happen. Just because someone says something terrible is going to happen by such and such a date doesn’t mean that it actually will. Life is what it is. No one is assured a soft life, nor any easy exit. In a more or less painful manner, we will all die. It is our duty – out of love for God and gratitude for our existence – to live our lives from first to last with as much dignity as we can. We are to pour ourselves out in love for one another, until God calls us home. Not, most assuredly, only until it is no longer easy or convenient for ourselves.
I feel sorry for Ms. Maynard and I will pray for her. Pray that she will see where the true act of love lies and hope that, in the end, she’ll trust in God, rather than the assertions of doctors, or the counsels of fools that November 1st should be her last day on earth.
For another take on this, go here - where another dying woman urges Ms. Maynard to reconsider.