The Decision To Die

It’s something I’ve considered in the past. Something I’ve discussed in a purely hypothetical sense.

Would I be able to make decision to end my own life, if continuing to live meant a continued loss of my quality of life and the reality that the remainder of my life would otherwise be spent in pain and suffering?

For me it’s a hypothetical. My family has no history of brain cancer, breast cancer, or any of the dozen other debilitating diseases that could create a situation for me where I felt that assisted suicide was something I would seriously consider, but for Brittany Maynard that choice is not hypothetical. In fact that decision has already been made.

As I write this article on October 9th, she is less than a month away from the decisive moment and I know it must be horribly difficult for her and her family to know that after November 1st she will no longer be with them.

But I understand her decision.

Yes, it probably does make her a coward, after all she is giving up and refusing to fight, but I also can’t see her decision as wrong by any definition.

At stage 4, with Glioblastoma, the chances for long term survival are bleak and not long. Brittany was given a six months to live. I’m sure that with radiation therapy and various other treatments she could extend that by some slight amount, but at what cost?

The horror of cancer is only expanded when you realize that the treatment for cancer is almost as bad as the disease itself. You are essentially praying that the radiation will kill the cancer (at stage 4 this is a fool’s hope) before it kills you.

The chances that Brittany Maynard’s cancer will go into remission are almost non-existent and I’m certain that she realizes that herself. Her choices are to live the short time she has left to the fullest, with the health that she has, or spend a slightly longer period of time in pain and misery.

Chemo is not fun, it’s not easy, and it doesn’t leave anyone with happy memories. It makes you sick, it puts you in pain, and it leaves a hell of a hospital bill for your family to pay afterward. Now if you do survive and your cancer goes into remission, it’s all worth it, but when your choice is to die fast or die slow…

By definition Brittany Maynard is a coward because she is turning tail and refusing to go through the pain and unpleasantness of her future, but I can honestly say that I also think that what she is doing is also brave. She does not want to die, if she could think of any possible way that her situation could be fixed she would do it, but since that hope is slim at best and non-existent at worst…she made the hard decision to finish her life in the way that would leave the least burden, the fewest unpleasant memories, for her family.

I respect that.

All of this is not to say that I don’t support those who choose to fight cancer, it’s just that I personally can understand the decision she has made and, hypothetically, I would probably choose the same if my situation were hers.




  1. I actually disagree with you, but I wouldn’t call her a coward. I work with a lot of sick and dying people and although it can be, (but not always) a humiliating and painful process, there is a great deal of beauty to be found there, too. Those who take what can only be described as a more logical, rational, choice, deprive themselves of the entire dying process, coming to terms with the reality of their own mortality, having the opportunity to say long goodbyes to loved ones, that spiritual peace and understanding that comes over people.

    I suppose it’s a bit like childbirth. We used to try and knock women out, to drug them up for what is obviously going to be an extremely difficult and painful thing, but over time we’ve learned, mostly from women themselves, that there is something to be said for honoring nature and the way we were designed.

    • I disagree with your assessment completely. There is no beauty or dignity in a prolonged death and deciding to die this way doesn’t stop her from saying those goodbyes (the fact that she selected a far flung future date so that she would have time to travel and make memories with her family shows that) and she will have time, as a result, to come to terms with her own mortality.

      However her family will not have to live with the memory of her pain and suffering, nor the debts that long term treatment would have heaped on them.

      Nothing good comes of romanticizing a long, painful death. It’s not pretty or peaceful. I think there is far more peace to be found by deciding to die and spending what time you have left coming to grips with that. It’s not as if she decided this one day and died the next…

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