Brittany Maynard purposefully ended her own life on Saturday, Nov. 2 at her Portland, Oregon home. The twenty-nine year old continues to provide a face for the controversial end-of-life-care debate.
Last spring, Maynard was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. Doctors gave her six months to live.
She attracted public attention when she announced her plan to kill herself using doctor-administered drugs sanctioned under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.
The Oregon Health Authority said, “(T)he Death with Dignity Act…allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.”
Maynard posted on her Facebook page just before her death, according to People magazine.
“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love,” Maynard wrote. “Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me…but would have taken so much more.”
Maynard’s open communication about her decision has brought the ethics of end-of-life-care to the forefront of public consciousness.
Dennis Sullivan, director for the Center of Bioethics at Cedarville, said, “There’s been a growing movement in the United States in favor of medical assistance in dying.”
He said there is a growing secular idea that people want to control the time and manner of death.
Since 1997, Oregon has permitted medically assisted dying. Since then, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico have also legalized the action.
The Death with Dignity National Center says, “The greatest human freedom is to live, and die, according to one’s own desires and beliefs. From advance directives to physician-assisted dying, death with dignity is a movement to provide options for the dying to control their own end of life care.”
Heather Kuruvilla, a professor of biology at Cedarville, said, they call it dying with dignity.
“The reason they’re saying there’s dignity in it is because basically you’ve given autonomy back to that person,” she said.
Cedarville professors shared their thoughts on how our culture views autonomy in relationship to ethics.
Sharon Christman, professor of nursing, said, “Autonomy is the right to make (one’s) own decision, and autonomy is pretty much the highest value in our culture.”
Sullivan said autonomy has run amuck in modern medicine
“Patients are trying to be their own healthcare professionals,” he said. “Patients are trying to be their own doctor. Patients are trying to tell doctors what to do for them.”
Christman said in her opinion, autonomy has overtaken the ethical principle of the value of human life. She said Christians must weigh whether autonomy is the highest ethical principle.
“I personally think the value of human life always wins,” Christman said. “Even when it’s hard.”
Kuruvilla said we are not fighting death itself.
“From a pragmatic point of view, we’re all terminal,” she said.
Death is not the issue; the medical community’s support of assisted death is, Christman said.
“What I am opposed to is the medical community coming alongside (Maynard’s decision) and saying, ‘This is part of what we do,’” she said.
The Dying with Dignity movement seeks to eliminate end-of-life suffering. Sullivan questions this goal.
“Whatever happened to the redemptive purpose for suffering?” he said. “Whatever happened to the courage in enduring suffering? Don’t we revere those people as well? Shouldn’t we applaud those who are willing to be subject to God’s will and to allow themselves not to be the masters of their own fate?”
Christman shares a similar view.
“(Christians) have an obligation to glorify God during that time and not remove (themselves) from the situation because of (their) own selfishness,” she said.
Sullivan and Christman said they believe we must approach Brittany Maynard’s story primarily with compassion.
“We should be deeply concerned about (her family’s) loss and grief,” Sullivan said.
But Christians have another obligation in the face of this tragedy, Sullivan said.
“We need to help our society understand that we’re on this earth for a purpose and ultimately we don’t own our lives; God does,” he said.
Kaity Kenniv is a junior Biblical studies major and a reporter for Cedars. She loves reading by a blazing fireplace, taking long walks in the autumn and a cup of hot tea in the morning.