It is so hard to watch a loved one face death in pain and fear, whether it’s for a short amount of time or a years-long battle. Everything within us wants desperately to help them—perhaps at any cost and by any means necessary. But when it comes down to it, what should that help look like, and how far should we go?
Death is certainly not something we should treat casually. We have to earnestly grapple with what it means to help someone die. And lately, that “help” has taken on a grim face ever since 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took her own life with a “death with dignity prescription” given by her doctor in Oregon. When it became evident Brittany would lose her battle against stage 4 brain cancer, she and her family moved to Oregon, one of the few states that has legalized physician-assisted suicide.
My heart went out to Brittany and her family. No one wants to suffer terrible pain at life’s end. And if doctors are saying you only have a few months to live, why not circumvent the discomfort and choose the timing of your last breath? Why not help her die?
An End to the Suffering?
On an individual basis, what Brittany did seems very appealing. There was a time after the diving accident in which I broke my neck and became a quadriplegic that I wanted to die. I would wrench my head back and forth on my pillow, hoping to break my neck higher and thereby ending my misery. I hated the pain; I loathed the idea of living without use of my hands or legs. So I can understand why people who suffer would want to kill themselves.1