The death of Brittany Maynard earlier this month has ignited a national debate about the right to die. Brittany was a 29-year-old newlywed who was diagnosed with brain cancer and who chose to take advantage of The Compassionate Care Act that was legalized in Oregon in 1997. Unfortunately for Brittany, who was a resident of California, the option to end her life in her home state was not available to her. During her illness and pain, she had to move out of California and set up residence in Oregon in order to die on her own terms.
By its very nature, suicide is not a punishable crime. You may terminate your life in any number of ways and at any age and for any reason. The difference between suicide and the right to die is that you may not end your own life in the loving company of your relatives and friends lest they be liable to prosecution for either abetting you or not intervening. To me, that is unacceptable. Don't get me wrong -- we're not talking about someone who is just tired of living or battling a mental or emotional crisis. This is an option for people who have a terminal illness and are in pain, will probably die in pain, and feel helpless and a burden to others. This is about choice. As Brittany said, "I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?"
The guidelines and rules involving death with dignity are strict. This is not someone making a choice for you because they don't want to take care of you. This is a personal decision made by you in consultation with a physician. Loved ones may even attempt to dissuade you from exercising this option, but their motivations are ruled by their desire to keep you with them for as long as possible. Before judging a person's actions, you need to ask yourself: If you were in this circumstance, would you want someone else making decisions for you? The answer seems obvious to me. As a human being in the land of the free, do I not have the right to do with my own body what I choose as long as I harm no one else?
The two camps that are standing in the way of our right to exercise this freedom are certain factions of the medical and religious communities. Physicians take an oath to "do no harm." I sympathize with them, but I think it is not their place to decide how a terminal patient will die. We pay them for treatment and advice. They are our employees. The Catholic Church has called Brittany's decision "reprehensible." Really, Vatican? We're going to go there? Don't get me started on what is reprehensible. As to anyone else who has a religious motivation against making Death with Dignity Acts legal across the country, I have the same answer for you as I do about same-sex marriage. If you don't believe in it, then don't do it.
Some of you may be shocked that, because I am in the New Age community, I would have a different point of view on this topic. You might think that I believe a soul's purpose is to experience the bad as well as the good for its own evolvement; that to discard the lessons that suffering and dependence might provide will only bring that lesson back to you in a later life. I make no assumptions about the free will of each soul. I am here to love and show compassion; I am not here to judge. I think Brittany Maynard is a hero. She did not want to die. An illness was killing her, and she made a brave decision to leave this Earth before that happened -- even though her own government and some critics didn't make it easy for her. Please read the statement that she released before her death which eloquently explains her decision. Also, I urge you to watch a documentary called "How to Die in Oregon" that is available on Netflix streaming and also to visit Compassion and Choices at https://www.compassionandchoices.org. I will be fighting to get a Death with Dignity Act on the ballot in my state; I hope that you will do the same in yours.