Media Monday: Brittany Maynard

This Media Monday post marks the first in a changed schedule. From this point on, Media Monday will appear on the first and third Monday of each month. Feminist Friday will appear on the second and fourth Friday of each month. I decided that there was really no need to put myself on a weekly schedule, I mean I’m not a writer or anything…

Choices in dying

If you aren’t aware, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard is determined to end her life on her own terms. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Maynard and her husband moved to Oregon, one of only a handful of states, that allows for an individual with six or less months to live to be prescribed a barbiturate to be taken to end life. Most people know this process by the term assisted suicide.

This topic is controversial to say the least. I think it conjures up images from the 1990’s of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. I think people are either all for or all against this process. You either have the right to end your life as you see fit, in your own way and time, or you don’t. Period.

There are ethics involved. there are viewpoints tied to religion involved. There are laws involved. At the same time, there are real lives involved. As with so many other issues in our society, the majority feels that they have the right to speak for the individual in this case. Large groups of individuals have come together with the collective viewpoint that their opinions and beliefs and morals far outweigh the opinions and beliefs and morals of the individual and their family confronting a decision regarding the right to live or die.

I live in the state of Washington. In 2009 my legislature signed into law Death with Dignity. I am thankful for that. If I was faced with a terminal illness I would want to know that I was afforded the choice to continue my life or to end it. The key word of course being choice. I have no right to take another life, but I do believe that I have both the right and the responsibility, if mentally capable, to determine how and when I die.

This discussion, like so many others, is polemic. It creates the need to take a side, and to take a stand. It divides and undermines rational conversations about death. It disallows individual choice and places decisions about agency and autonomy into the hands of a deity, or a body of individuals who have set themselves apart, and who often proclaim a status equal to the level of that deity.

Brittany Maynard is just one individual who believes she has a choice. In 2013, 173 people in my state planned to exercise their choice. Those individuals were not newsworthy for their decision. They proved to themselves and to their care providers that they were making a sound decision, a correct decision for themselves, and they were given the means to choose when and where.

Controversy over the Maynard issue grew in the last few days because Brittany Maynard changed her mind. She had originally made public a choice to die on November 1. Announcing this decision to the public was yet another choice, in part, to allow Brittany to support the work done by the organization Compassion & Choices. Brittany Maynard is now being castigated from around the world for wanting to exercise choice. She is being castigated because she is the public image of a choice that clearly, many people make, and carry out, each year.

I cannot help but ask myself just how willing I would be to speak about such a private decision, given the sentiments of society on this topic. It would seem that Brittany Maynard has made the choice to die being a vocal advocate for the right to die, and I applaud her for that. I also applaud all those who have chosen to die quietly, in the manner that brings them a peaceful end. Because in the end, it has to be about individual choice.

Early Monday update: This post was written Sunday evening and scheduled to publish at 2 AM Monday. At 4:30 AM, the news media is telling us that Brittany Maynard did take her life on Saturday as was her original plan.




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