Wednesday, February 18, 2015

When You've Had Enough

Brittany Maynard is dead.

While I don’t agree with her decision to end her life, I do understand why she decided to do it. Cancer in its later stages is a nasty disease. It can, especially if the brain is affected, rob a person of his very being. 
I don’t know what Brittany Maynard believed. I don’t know whether she struggled with the  decision to end her life. Did she believe in an after life? Did she have hope of an eternity spent with God? If she did, she must also have believed that her decision would not prohibit her entrance into that kingdom. And, if so, she was probably right. I believe God understands and forgives a person who is so distressed that he takes his own life. This isn’t a commentary on suicide and whether it is an unforgivable sin. Nor is it a debate on the morality or legality of assisted suicide. 
What does Brittany Maynard’s decision say to other cancer patients faced with a lingering painful death with no hope of recovery? When death is inevitable and quality of life is diminishing, are we obligated to continue treatment that won’t cure but will prolong the suffering? At what point does someone say, “I’ve had enough”?
Recently a member of our f.a.i.t.H. group, faced this dilemma. Among multiple life-long health problems, she was diagnosed a few years ago with mouth cancer leading to painful surgeries and reconstructions. Head and neck cancers are among the most difficult to live with. Eating, speaking, swallowing can become painful and even impossible. Roger Ebert the famous movie critic lost his lower jaw and along with it the ability to eat and speak.
I believe everyone should have the right to decide when they’ve had enough. Your action when you reach that point depends on your world view. My friend,  a God-follower didn’t want to do anything that would make God unhappy with her or jeopardize her chance to live eternally with Him. “Maybe God wants me to suffer,” she said. “Maybe I don’t have the right to make a decision that will very likely end in my death.”

Choosing to stop treatment is not the same as suicide.

Assisted suicide, in which one chooses how and when to die is different from refusing treatment and letting the disease take its natural course. Family members and friends may not understand this kind of decision. They want to keep you here at any cost because they thought of life without you is unbearable. Ultimately the decision lies with the patient. 
I am not recommending this solution. I am, however, attempting to alleviate the guilt of those who choose it. As a person who loves someone with cancer, I hope that if and when the time comes, I will honor and respect the decision of my cancer warrior to lay down arms after a well-fought and courageous battle.