Twenty-nine year old Brittany Maynard, diagnosed with terminal brain cancer earlier this year, voluntarily chose to commit assisted suicide on Nov. 1. At the time of diagnosis, Maynard was given only six months to live. Due to the large size of her tumor, she stated that any treatment would be painful for her and her family to watch. In an attempt to preserve her dignity in the final moments of her life, she moved to Oregon, one of only five states in the U.S. in which physician or doctor-assisted suicide is legal.
Maynard’s choice has been met with controversy. Assisted suicide groups praise her bravery in her decision, while others have decried Maynard as a coward who does not have the courage to stand against pain. Some have gone as far to say that the assisted suicide advocacy group she joined, Choices and Compassion, is exploiting her decision for national attention on the matter of assisted suicide.
However, most of the groups that criticize Maynard’s choice have little understanding of what pain she would have had to go through. It is easy for others to chastise her decision, mainly because they, like many, have never had cancer; they have had little idea of the pain she would have had to face. Beyond the deterioration of her appearance, she would have had to face psychological and physiological pain that comes with chemotherapy. Choosing to end her life on her own terms rather than to cancer is indeed a justifiable choice.
From an emotional standpoint, assisted suicide would have saved Maynard’s family from witnessing the pain that comes with treatment and drawn-out death. Her family would not have been able to help her condition – assisted suicide not only spares a suffering patient’s pain, but also prevents loved ones from having to watch.
Maynard knew that her quality of life was going to quickly decline as a result of her illness. It is easy for others to point fingers and reprimand her decision, especially when they are not the ones suffering.
Cancer strips the affected of their pride and dignity. According to cancer survivors, they are removed of certain emotions, something that opponents for assisted suicide often overlook.
Everyone has the right to pursue his or her own happiness, and Maynard did exactly so, albeit in a way society is not used to. Maynard’s choice of assisted suicide may have cut her life short, but it allowed her family to undergo less suffering than they would have had they witnessed her struggle to stay alive – it also allowed her to say goodbye on her own terms.
“Under the right circumstances, suicide by physician is justified. It allows for people to practice their own unalienable rights to happiness,” Senior Shawn Jung said.