Brittany Maynard, 1984-2014
No one was surprised by the news of Brittany Maynard’s death on November 1, as she had planned. The news arrived in my Inbox late Sunday night, November 2, in an email from Compassion & Choices, an organization I have supported — as a volunteer, Northern California board chair and in all other ways — for well over 15 years,
What Brittany did for Compassion & Choices, and for you and me, though, far exceeds what any one person might ordinarily have done. Hers was an extraordinary demonstration of how to live, and die.
More of how she lived will continue to be in the news. But it’s how she died, with generosity and grace, that is worth noticing right now. Just to touch on a few things:
Brittany, in making her own choice, showed us how to make our own choices. Demand the right to control your destiny, she was saying. Fight for legalized aid in dying. Complete your own advance directives and make sure EVERYONE in your family and circle of friends knows what your own wishes are. Death with dignity was Brittany’s choice, and she wanted it to be yours — if you choose.
“The freedom is in the choice,” Brittany said. “If the option of Death With Dignity is unappealing to anyone for any reason, they can simply choose not to avail themselves of it.”
Brittany was irate over insinuations that she had been “manipulated” by anyone. She was a strong, educated, independent, intelligent woman who led a joy-filled life and confronted its abbreviated end with remarkable courage. The reality was simply that she took control of her own final months, weeks, days, by moving to Oregon where aid in dying is legal. The reality is that she wanted her life — and death — to have meaning for all of us. She hoped that by sharing her story all of us might benefit.
It’s about freedom. Brittany, thankfully, is now free of the terrible pain her illness was bringing, a pain that was certain only to increase. Her family will mourn for a long time, but they are free of the pain and anguish that comes from watching someone you love suffer.
You and I are free to choose. We can continue to let those who hold differing views deprive us of our right to control our final weeks and days. Or we can fight to legalize our right to choose a compassionate death. Eventually, that right will prevail.
The right of the terminally ill to avoid unbearable pain — physical or mental — can only be denied by a crass and uncaring public. Oregon’s law is a good start toward a need change..