Brittany Maynard, now a household name, recently made a very controversial decision that has sent an adverse message to the world. Maynard has rapidly become the face of the death with dignity movement as the heartbreaking story of her battle with terminal brain cancer grabbed the nation’s attention and millions cried alongside her. As planned, the twenty-nine year old advocate for assisted suicide and death with dignity legally ended her own life with medication this past Sunday, according to USA Today. My heart goes out to Maynard and her family during this unimaginably difficult time, but in the midst of the sadness, we must put our emotions aside and realize the extremely detrimental affects her highly publicized decision is capable of having on the way we look at and care for the sick.
Because of the horrific and painful side effects she was destined to endure as her cancer worsened, Maynard and her husband moved to Oregon, one of only five US states where assisted suicide is legal, according to The Chicago Tribune. Maynard decided she wanted to die with her dignity, and end her own life rather than allow her cancer to kill her. But what does it mean to die with dignity? And what message does linking a dignified death with suicide send? Seeing this woman referred to as brave and heroic may lead others in similar positions down a very slippery slope. If dying with dignity requires a person to end their life before their disease takes over, do those who die at the will of their illness die without their dignity? Glorifying assisted suicide teaches patients that in order to die nobly and respectably, they need to take matters into their own hands. This way of thinking is dangerous.
Watching Maynard’s heart-wrenching story play out has led many to sympathize and agree with her choice. It has begun to create this idea that living with a terminal illness isn’t really living, it’s just suffering until certain death, so what’s the point in staying alive? Exulting suicide in the face of disease strips patients of their self worth. It makes them believe that their lives matter less than the lives of the healthy, that they should just end them before it gets worse, all masked by the notion that killing them is more humane than letting them suffer. If this way of thinking becomes the norm in regard to the terminally ill, what will come next? Perhaps those with brain injuries and paralysis will be viewed similarly, and the choice of death will be offered to them as well. The far reaching implications surrounding this case could influence others to end their lives when there are alternatives.
Maynard did not believe she was committing suicide because she claimed “[she didn’t] want to die. Those who commit suicide are typically people who want to die,” according to NBC News. Those who commit suicide as a result of depression often do so not because they wish to die, but because they wish to end their suffering, according to http://www.save.org. Choosing to end suffering due to a physical illness is essentially the same concept.
Grappled by the media, Maynard’s death, one of the most emotional and personal aspects of human life, has become a very public ordeal. Her life, diagnosis, and now her death, have been shared with the whole country,through numerous media outlets, bringing the topic of assisted suicide into national discussion. Watching Maynard’s heart wrenching story play out has led many to sympathize and agree with her choice, including influential celebrities such as Lucy Hale and Colton Haynes, who tweeted their support, according to ibtimes.com. With a large number of supporters, it is very possible for assisted suicide to become more widely accepted and legalized in more states than the very few it is currently legal in. Maynard and her family have gone through an impossibly difficult time, and unimaginable agony. In no way do I wish to disrespect her or belittle her decision, but rather to warn that if assisted suicide is to become common medical practice, there is no telling where it will end.
Emily Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org