Friday, October 10, 2014

a reply to Brittany Maynard

You may recall that I recently wrote about young Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old diagnosed with brain cancer who has chosen to end her life this coming November 1 as a way of dying with dignity, i.e., having some say in how she leaves this world. You may also recall my expression of disturbance at Maynard's refusal to face up to the fact that what she would be doing is suicide—no more, no less—and while I don't morally condemn her for choosing suicide, I do feel she needs to face up to the fact that suicide is precisely what she's enacting. She's already a brave soul; she just needs to be a wee bit braver and more honest with herself.

Tonight, I saw that another brain-cancer patient has written a reply to Maynard's predicament and proposed solution: Maggie Karner, age 51, also has glioblastoma multiforme and a bleak prognosis. In her essay, she takes on the issue of Brittany's avoidance of the term suicide. I found the more theological aspects of her piece hard to relate to, but I salute Karner for not taking the "suicide is a sin" route in her argument. If anything, she makes clear that she feels great compassion for Maynard, her fellow traveler on this dark and rocky path.

Karner's argument essentially points out, quite legitimately, that so much in life is already out of our control. Once she began to be poked and prodded and operated on by the doctors, whatever dignity she had departed in a hurry. Cancer wasn't her choice, and Karner's feeling is that the endgame isn't her choice, either: she puts her circumstances in God's hands. I'll leave it up to you to sort through your own feelings on this matter. Personally, I respect Karner's decision not to die as much as I respect Maynard's decision to take control of her own fate. Both of these choices strike me as equally legitimate, although I'm sure both ladies would disagree with me. The problem, though, is that glioblastoma multiforme is a monster that chops away almost all the branches of the tree of future possibilities, leaving its victims bereft of almost all choice, and making all such cancer stories end approximately the same way. My own mother, after her initial debulking operation, was no longer in a position to make important decisions about her own treatment. In that sense, both of these articulate women, Maynard and Karner, have been truly lucky and privileged to be able to meditate this deeply, post-diagnosis, on how they will face their futures.


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