Culture of Death, euthanasia, Marriage, Suffering

Suicide is not dignified

October 10, 2014

So there’s a lot of crazy stuff trending online this week. Lots of pain. Lots of suffering. I hope you’ll forgive this slightly tangential but definitely related contribution to my 31 days series.

One of the saddest things I’ve read is the story of beautiful Brittany Maynard. 29 years old. Newlywed. Terminal brain cancer. You’ve probably read her story. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a minute to click over. Then go ahead and read this and this, while you’re at it.

She’s really sick. She’s been given a death sentence, basically. And she has, in the face of unimaginable suffering and terror, decided to take matters into her own hands through the hands of her doctor and end her life via assisted suicide rather than face down the specter of the unknown.

On some level I get it. She’s been given this horrific prognosis and has been told in exacting detail how heinous her suffering will be. The interviews she has given paint the picture of a woman used to being in control all her life, and her doctors have told her she will inevitably lose that, along with her life. Who wouldn’t be afraid?

What I’m mostly struggling with is the reaction to Brittany’s story in the media, and on social media.

Scrolling through the comments on the pieces I’ve read about her this week I’m most struck by the pervasive sense of fear and, God forgive me, cowardice imbued in so many of them.

We put animals down when they’re in pain, humans deserve the same right.

It’s a basic human right to have the chance to die with dignity. (Dignity here being defined as controlled, on one’s own terms)

I hope I’ll be that brave when the time comes.

Good for her, she deserves to choose the hour and the day.

While my heart is breaking for Brittany and her husband, I can’t help but feel sickened and enraged by the massive outpouring of support for the proposed suicide of a fellow human being. This woman has announced to the world that she intends to kill herself in order to avoid the tragic, wasting consequences of her hideous disease, and the world is cheering her on.

Listen, this is madness. This is evil incarnate. This is the very epitome of the culture of death. 

In celebrating her “right” to end her life, she is being used as a pawn to advance an agenda that claims to bestow “dignity” and “compassion” on circumstances already fraught with suffering and pain.

This woman is dying. She quite possibly is suffering from mental illness from the effects of her disease on top of it all. And we’re racking up likes and shares all over social media, gushing about bravery and compassion and strength.

Is this the same culture that mourned the death of Robin Williams en masse just last month? Was his suicide not heralded as brave because his illness was depression and not cancer? How has the conversation pivoted so dramatically in such a short time?

This woman is walking in her final weeks, perhaps her final days, and rather than serving her in her time of greatest need, the world is clamoring to hasten her demise.

There is nothing compassionate about giving someone the tools to end their own life.

But we live in a world that recoils from suffering, that sees no meaning in the cross.

Brittany’s life has meaning. And her death will have meaning, too. Christ crucified and resurrected guarantees this.

But to celebrate death, to tout death as the cure for her terrible illness…it is the least humane of all possible options. And her husband, her poor, brokenhearted and newly-wedded husband. He is standing by his bride’s side and watching her announce, to the world, that she’s taking her own life before cancer can take it from her. And he’s cheering her on.

It’s not supposed to end like that.

I am not judging Britanny Maynard. God knows she is carrying a heavy cross, and I pray that she will experience a change of heart and a conversion to Christ. But I am judging a culture that would jump up and down with excitement at the idea of a person having the right to choose the moment and the means of their own death and would call it brave.

That’s not brave.

May God have mercy on her and on her family. And may her husband recall his wedding vows, freshly pledged, promising faithfulness in sickness and in health.

Don’t do it, Brittany. Every moment of your life has meaning, and your suffering is not in vain. You have a right to be here. Every moment of the life you have been given is a gift, and nobody has the right to take it from you.

Not even you.

Read the rest of the series here.

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26 Comments

  • Reply Brandi October 10, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I have really been struggling with seeing this story in the news. My mom committed suicide when I was in high school. As I lived in a very small town, I had to listen to the gossip and rumors and opinions that people had about it. No one said, “Well, at least she doesn’t have to suffer.” I understand that Brittany does not want to suffer. I myself have struggled with depression and suicidal tendencies. I’ve seen a lot said that she isn’t committing suicide because she doesn’t want to be dead. Whether you don’t want to suffer due to mental illness or you don’t want to suffer due to cancer, suicide is suicide. I am totally with you…I’m shocked that people seem happy for her that she is about to make this decision. I can tell you that no one was happy that my mom ended her suffering. None of my friends were happy for me when in my dark moments I told them I just wanted to end it all. It’s just heartbreaking. I pray she has a change of heart.

  • Reply bibliophile October 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you!

  • Reply thesewallsblog.com October 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Perfect, Jenny. You said it so well.

    As to Brandi’s comment above — I’m so sorry for your loss. What an incredibly difficult one, on so many levels. Having suffered a suicide in my own family, I can vouch that it’s a special kind of horrible to know that your loved one caused her own death. Losing the person is awfully hard to begin with. Knowing that they chose to leave you and all the others they loved — for whatever reason — can be just about unbearable.

  • Reply Nora October 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Amen! As you know, I so appreciate (and echo) your perspective, and I am glad I found your blog through this. A smart, well-spoken, young Catholic blogger with a sense of humor? Pour me another cup!

  • Reply Megan A. October 10, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    I agree with this 1000%.

  • Reply heidi keene October 11, 2014 at 12:43 am

    Thank you for the beautiful article. Today I posted on Brittany’s youtube page a comment asking her not to do it, and perhaps in less lyrical language than you are gifted with, I told her that it was cowardice. It didn’t take long before I began receiving retaliatory comments in my email calling me unspeakable names and accusing me of ‘viciousness’ and “sanctimony’. I beg all of you that are able, join in the Christian voice on her youtube page and be heard.
    And pray for her.

    In Christ,
    Heidi

    • Reply gigi sanchez October 12, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      In my opinion, it is cowardice of people to call her a coward. Her decision is not about bravery OR cowardice. It’s not about Christianity or the lack thereof. Posing it as such only causes people to turn away from Christianity, not bring them closer. This was proven to you by the way you were responded to. Calling people names (cowards, not dignified, lack of bravery, etc) is a way of banding like-minded, ignorant, arrogant people together. It’s a way of making pretend that other people are wrong so you can pretend you are right. It does nothing to bring peace to the world, much less to Brittany.

      You could have gone on her site and told her how her decision made you feel -and left it at that. That’s harder to do because it’s more vulnerable. That makes you the coward, not her.

  • Reply gigi sanchez October 11, 2014 at 5:59 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Reply gigi sanchez October 11, 2014 at 6:03 am

    I don’t agree with your perspective. It’s easy to write your opinion and judge her (saying she’s not brave is a judgement call) and the truth is , you don’t know what you would do in her shoes. None of us do. You’re a bench critic.

    • Reply Jenny October 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      Um, well, baring any profound mental illness or loss of mental faculties, I can, in fact, say with confindece that I would never kill myself. That’s not a judgment, it’s an act of the will.

      And suicide is many things, but it is never brave.

      My prayers are with Brittany and our sick, dying culture which insists otherwise. Popular opinion does not determine reality.

    • Reply gigi sanchez October 11, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Hi Jenny,
      When you look up the definition for suicide, it regards somebody taking their own life, and with it comes mental illness, aka: depression. This woman is battling a life-threatening disease so the cancer is taking her life and there are no reports of her suffering from a mental illness (at least not prior to the cancer). So to call her choice a “suicide” isn’t accurate. And whose reality are you talking about? Yours. Your opinion is popular here, at this forum, and that does not determine her reality.

      Peace

  • Reply K Sc October 11, 2014 at 6:30 am

    Ok, I wrote this once and it disappeared. I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer 1 year after getting married to the love of my life. I was given 4 years to live by the doctors and that was after multiple surgeries, losing organs and going through treatments that I thought would kill me regardless of the cancer. I was then given 6 months to live by more doctors. I retired from my career and got my affairs in order.

    I’m a Military veteran with combat experience and now a retired Police Detective and have no fear of death and also have all the items I need to take myself out, right in front of me. Time went by and I had a beautiful Daughter with my wife even though I was supposed to be dying and the doctors said that I should not be able to have a child and my wife supposedly could not due to another health issue (well we did!). This was at about my 2 year mark and I was weak and sick and on a lot of meds. I was still very depressed and giving up.

    I finally decided to stop all the pain meds because I did not want to spend my last days in a drug haze. More time came and went and it has now been 7 years. 7 years that have been wonderful and have shown me how great and beautiful life can be in ways I never thought possible. I look at the Glock .45 cal pistol that I put to my head many times and know that I made the right choice each and every time that I put it back down. I can’t say that this woman would have the luck that I have had, but her decision is very sad and she is giving up any chance of learning what could become of her life. Doctors practice medicine and don’t always know what will happen even when they tell you what they think. If I listened to them 100%, really believed them and gave up, then I wouldn’t have learned how incredibly wonderful my life could be and still is. I’m blessed with a wonderful family and new daughter because I did not give in. I live in constant physical pain and I don’t have the strength that I used to have, but these are very small sacrifices for all I have. My little life story may not mean anything, but I wish this woman would try to hang on and try to live. Maybe live as long as she can and surprise doctors like I have. She could have a living will so that if she goes into a coma and/or life support, they would shut it off. But, til then, she could try to live and fight etc.

    • Reply Kelly October 11, 2014 at 10:40 am

      What a powerful testimony! Thank you for sharing your story. Prayers for you and your family. God Bless!

    • Reply Doug Pearson October 11, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Keep fighting brother!

    • Reply Jenny October 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      What an incredible story. Thank you for sharing it, and for putting down the gun every time. I cannot fathom the weight of the cross you’ve been given, but your response to your cancer has the markings of real heroism – not bravado, but honestly to God when it really matters heroism – all over it. Thank you.

      And about the living will, so good to point out. Ordinary means of sustaining life are often confused in this culture. Thank you for your witness.

    • Reply Kari Ballew October 13, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      While this is a moving story, it seems like it is essentially the same process that she is currently going through. She got the pills just like you had the gun. She hasn’t used those pills and you never used the gun. According to her personal account, she does not intend on taking those pills unless her situation becomes much worse. If she improves, as you did, she may never take those pills. Perhaps everybody who is praying for her should stop praying that she change her mind and instead focus on praying for an improved condition so that her story can have as happy an ending as yours does.

  • Reply Doug Pearson October 11, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I have stage 4 cancer and am presently being treated with Chemotherapy and am only waiting for this to bring my cancer somewhat under control so that we can begin radiation… OH WHAT FUN! Now I have not been told that I am certain to die an agonizing death within 6 months… but even if they told me that the last thing I would do is shorten the time that I have to love my family and for them to love me… LOVE in the real sense, caritas… which often entails real compassion (co-suffering).

    The epic fail here is that our culture is so far gone that this young lady does not have the slightest understanding of the value that her suffering can have. The materialists/Hedonist have won the culture war… pleasure is the highest good and pain the worst species of evil, second only to that of losing your “self-reliance” or “independence” and having to need others!

    How far we have fallen! Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us… pray for Brittany!

    • Reply Kelly October 11, 2014 at 10:41 am

      Well said, and a perfect person to call on for prayer! He exemplified dying with dignity. Prayers for you and your family, Doug.

    • Reply Jenny October 11, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Thank you for your comment Doug, what a story. You have my prayers brother. Caritas indeed.

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  • Reply JARay October 12, 2014 at 3:31 am

    A friend of mine’s comment on the two of us being told of the suicide of a young man we both knew very well, was, “What a coward! Whatever it was that drove him to this, was sheer cowardice, a refusal to face what he thought was going to happen. So, he ran away, and let everyone of those around him, suffer the consequences”.

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  • Reply Popi October 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    (sorry my english)
    Thanks for writing the post. Last week I read the news in a blog and I was sad. And even sadder when I saw the amount of comments from people who support the mother who is going to commit suicide.
    I have a very sick daughter that was born ill and that she will live ill. But every minute, better, every second of her life is a gift. A GIFT that has changed all our lives to better lives .It has changed our way of ; living life, priorities, loving each other, way to enjoy…
      I wish someone would look at Brittany Maynard as I look at my daughter.
    Blanca
    Spain

  • Reply Jonathan Lee Ching October 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Lets pray the Novena of St Jude for her…http://www.praymorenovenas.com/st-jude-novena/

  • Reply Heather October 14, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    This is a really powerful post, lots to think about and contemplate. I’ve just started reading your series posts, Im enjoying them!

  • Reply Patricia October 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    I dont think suffering disappears with a suicide. It is just transferred and multiplied in those that are left to mourn. They are robbing us of an opprotunity to help , to love, to be more human. It shows a deep disconnect with the world and others. It is always a trajedy.

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