Reflections on assisted suicide: an inspiration to greatness or a sad, missed opportunity?

From People Magazine, 11/2:

Brittany Maynard, who became the public face of the controversial right-to-die movement over the last few weeks, ended her own life Saturday at her home in Portland, Oregon. She was 29. 

“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. 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,” she wrote on Facebook.

Brittany Maynard’s story is a sad reflection on what some of our young people are being taught these days.  Someone has given her a backwards, misguided way of looking at life.  Brain cancer did not take anything away from Brittany.  Brain cancer can end a person’s natural life, but it can never take away the human spirit, which is of far more value than a fleeting experience of pain.  I would not wish such pain on anyone, but compare her story with the following.

I watched one of my best friends die of cancer a year and a half ago.  She was sick for ten years.  Many times during those years, I marveled at her persistence.  She never stopped working (gardening – a very physical job!) unless she was too ill to go in and never gave up her job until she was too weak to drive herself to work.  During those years you have to know that on the path of her life she traversed through many struggles and pits of despair, but to categorize her fight with cancer according to the negativity she went through is to misunderstand the whole purpose of life itself.  When I last visited my friend two days before she passed into the next life, she looked like an angel.  She was completely at peace and ready to go.  So, how did she manage to drag herself from those depths of despair to the pinnacle of tranquility that she experienced in her last days?  She dealt with everything as it came along: all of her feelings inadequacy, anger and hatred and all of her flawed ideas that somehow God was punishing her by giving her this disease.  God did not give her this disease.  He did allow it, but He could only allow it for her good since he is only good.  She left this world knowing that God is only good and her struggle had been worth it all.  She didn’t choose to eliminate the pain from her life.  She chose instead to use it to propel herself to the highest of heights.

The human spirit is constantly striving. To be human is to never give up until the last breath you take.  Another elderly friend died last year of congestive heart failure and COPD.  Every single breath she took for many months was a struggle, yet she never complained.  She was constantly cheerful.  Her persevering spirit gave me courage and strength and made me realize the things that I have that are absolute blessings.  I can go for a walk whenever I want and drink down large gulps of fresh air, appreciating how each breath fills me with the feeling of being alive.  I take in more breaths and feel how each one keeps my life on going.  Her life had meaning and purpose and she inspired all those around her.  I am told that she passed from this world with a smile on her face.  She knew where she was going.

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Taking one’s own life is not the answer to life’s troubles, whether those troubles be diseases or hardships.  Mountain ranges have dark and cool valleys, but they also have craggy hills and glorious peaks.  Brittany Maynard’s decision eliminated the pain from her life, but what opportunities did she miss?  She took away from herself the possibility of dealing with all of the gritty parts of life.  She left no place in her life to become an inspiration to those she left behind by finding the courage to take on life to its very end.

On the same day that her death was announced, there was another story about a young woman also with terminal brain cancer.  Lauren Hill, of Mount Saint Joseph College, has been given only a few months to live.  She played in her first college level basketball game this week and scored four points for her team.  She played in spite of the headaches and in spite of the nausea.  There was a huge outpouring of support for Lauren, requiring a larger arena for the game.  That is the kind of inspiration that nudges our human spirit towards greatness.  It touches something in us all and makes us think that we too can aspire to something greater.  These are the lessons that will last because these are the lessons that demonstrate greatness.  Life is a precious gift and to choose to end it before it has had a chance to teach us as much as it can is truly regretful.

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