Among a long list of emails piling into my Inbox is one that says “Thanks to a particularly successful story on People.com the increased traffic has crashed our site. Please be patient as we yell and shake our fists at our web hosting company. We’ll be back up and running shortly.”
It’s from Compassion & Choices, an organization I’ve worked with for nearly two decades. Compassion & Choices is an excellent nonprofit, leader in the fight to make Death With Dignity — specifically, physician aid-in-dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults — a right for all Americans.
This particular story is a People.com type of story: beautiful young woman dying of brain cancer, choosing to die with dignity and courage… and sadly having to move to Oregon to accomplish this. But similar stories, some with happy endings and some not, occur every day: men and women of all ages in the U.S. find themselves with terminal diagnoses and seek to control their final days and hours. It shouldn’t be that hard.
Though I’m no longer active in this capacity, for many years I served as a Compassion & Choices volunteer — trained C&C volunteers will help those who fit the criteria (terminally ill, mentally competent adults) understand their options. In California, which does not have a DWD law but hopefully will within the next few years, the best option is often to stop eating and drinking. Or sometimes just to stop taking the medications that are keeping you alive. To be candid, some people also hoard life-ending medications and when their numbered days get to be very few — or their suffering becomes more intense than they feel worth the struggle — they stir those pills into applesauce and spend their final moments in peace, surrounded by loved ones and in the quiet of their own homes.
How in the world is this not a good idea? Why in the world is prolonging life to the bitter end, more often than not in a cold & sterile hospital room ever a better idea?
Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old subject of the People.com story, is choosing to die on her own terms. Wouldn’t we all?