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Fear, dignity and Brittany Maynard

I cried for poor Brittany Maynard, a woman whose life will not be lived as she dreamed that it would be. I cried for her husband and friends, her parents. The people who will miss her every day for the rest of their own lives. Her story makes me feel fragile, all too human. So, maybe I cried for myself as well.

There have been quite a few things opined about her situation. Some champion her decision, others are borderline hostile toward her. One conservative blogger at The Federalist went so far as to say that she was selfish and misinterpreted the word “dignity” when she applied it to her own situation. His point was that a person is dignified, not the state of their body. He even felt that she robbed her family of the chance to care for her as she died. He himself had helped care for his dying father for a few weeks, and he treasured that time.

Still others penned articles in support of her decision, and she has become the “death with dignity” poster girl. She could have died in her own home instead of moving into her parents’ Oregon home where physician-assisted death is legal. I can’t help but wonder if she became part of this movement to give some meaning to what life she had left.

But so much of this rhetoric has ignored what I see so plainly. Here lies a woman who made a decision about her own body.

In this country, we celebrate the individuals, the mavericks that blaze their own trails. We believe that we have a right to self-determination and choice, that we are not property. If we can support a person’s right to live their own way, why can’t we support a person’s decision to end life on their own terms?

The Hubs and I have agreed to disagree on this one. As a former hospice nurse, he wholeheartedly disagrees with euthanasia. He believes that what so many fear – excruciating pain – can be controlled with good care and pain management medications. He believes the dying should have every opportunity to say their goodbyes, make their peace and die well.

As someone living with a degenerative neurological condition, though, I can empathize with Brittany. For me, dying well encompasses so very, very much. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about a decade ago. And at some point, I could get so sick, so helpless, so lingering – that I would not have the quality of life that would make me feel as if I were actually living.

Brittany said that she didn’t feel like she was committing suicide, she was already dying and her doctors suspected her body could hang on for months. She was just bringing the process to a quicker and painless end.

When I started taking a new MS medication six years ago, I was pretty nervous. It had been linked to a number of deaths, gruesome and similar to mad cow disease. I tried to get my friends to promise me that if I developed Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy, they would come smother me with a pillow because I knew my husband wouldn’t be able to.

I don’t want to waste away in a bed, unable to communicate with my children and family. Nor do I want my children to watch that. Because it’s not the dying that scares me – it’s the fear of lingering that gets to me, and it was the fear of lingering that got to Brittany.

Both Brittany and the blogger’s father accepted their inevitable death and chose how they wanted to die. I say that is death with dignity.

What were your thoughts on Brittany Maynard and euthanasia?

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