“Death with Dignity”, “Right to Die” - Both of these phrases made headlines last month the with story of Brittany Maynard’s anticipated and eventual death. (Insert link) A piece by another MKR writer concerning right to die, suggested that Brittany had an expiration date on her head. After reading the piece I thought, “But don’t we all?” We all have a point in which we are going to pass from this life into whatever the next one holds. We are all uncertain of when that date may be, even though we know that the day will, in fact, arrive.
It may be semantics, but I would prefer that in the case of “death with dignity”, we used “best by” date. You see, not a one of us can anticipate when our death will be... only when the quality of life is less than what one would prefer. Even doctors only give estimates, and cannot be held to specifics. Even a terminal diagnosis is only a “best by” date.
Which brings me to my grandfather; a man that I loved very much, a man that at one point was given three years to live. Three years... that turned into seven. Seven years of cherished memories- for him and our family. You see, the doctors were wrong... only able to give educated guesses on what their expectations were based on past cases and current diagnosis.
I do understand the desire not to suffer, to carry out our last of days as easily as possible. But I am emotionally confused regarding this topic. Because I do understand the desire to not suffer, I can empathize with those that have chosen death with dignity. But a part of me wonders where the line is drawn. Who gets to make the decision to end their life... and who will be treated as criminals for doing so.
Physician Assisted Suicide is legal in the Netherlands, Quebec, Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and three states in America (Oregon, Washington and Vermont). Many other states have “Right to Die” language in some form of anticipated legislation. However, in many states we treat those that commit or attempt to commit suicide as a common-law criminal. I am torn, because of the difference in standards. Not that I want anyone to die… but I wonder how we can simultaneously applaud those that choose not to go past their “best by” date, yet condemn those that are conflicted with inner demons… leaving them with the feeling that they have surpassed their shelf-life as well. Are we sending conflicting messages?
You may conclude that those who commit, or attempt to commit, suicide are not “in their right mind.” I would agree- there are many mental illnesses that are either curable or manageable through medication and therapy. Likewise, many terminal illnesses come with a secondary diagnosis of depression; the difference being that those that are terminal have an illness that will presumably cause their death. However, in places like the Netherlands, Death with Dignity is acceptable for those with mental illness.
I admittedly don’t have the answer and am without question confused. I have researched this topic so that I may come to my own intelligent opinion on the manner, and yet I remain conflicted. According to a study based out of Oregon, the numbers of people who chose Death with Dignity between 1998 and 2014 have steadily increased. However, so did the number of patients that did not follow through with the assisted suicide plan after being prescribed the medications.
This also gives me pause.
I believe, that in the end, I may never know what my choice would be if faced with a terminal illness... or at least I can hope. I do know that what is right for me isn’t always right for another, and that can be said in the reverse. I hope that through this ongoing discussion we can take away that EACH life is valuable and worth adequate consideration; we each matter, regardless of where we are in our life cycle.
Liz Snell has over 10 years experience working and volunteering with organizations that address the needs of military families and veterans. Known for her advocacy and dedication to the military spouse community, Liz presently volunteers many hours daily providing support and resources in areas of family readiness, educational scholarship opportunities, and career mobility. In 2012, she co-founded a non-profit organization, Military Spouses of Michigan, dedicated to providing a network of military family support services including educational guidance, career development and legal assistance resources.