Sunday, October 12, 2014

Q: How Can You Identify An Exception To The Rule?


A: When it's the answer that makes sense.

Brittany Maynard is going to die. Of that, there is no question. Her diagnosis bluntly says she will deteriorate quickly and die a painful death. She has decided to end her life on her terms. Considering what she is facing, there is no other alternative except to suffer. She has planned an event, where she has wrapped up her affairs and said her goodbyes, and she will die with the people she loves most surrounding her.

And while her story is sad, the message she wants to impart is not. Brittany Maynard is showing us how to handle a death sentence with class and strength.

Medical euthanasia is a very personal choice, and is not right for everyone. However, the people who want to pursue the option are screened and must take the action themselves. The medication prescribed is just guaranteed to work without unnecessary suffering. Those who say doctors will begin killing patients are using hyperbole to strike fear where there is no proof. The fact is, the screening process has requirements that make sense and are compassionate.

Suicide is a difficult subject to tackle. It's something we are engineered to call wrong on every occasion, but the truth is that every rule has an exception. I worked in health care, and I have seen many a parent of a friend succumb to cancer or long illness. I have seen people writhe in pain, and felt helpless while the maximum dose of painkillers failed to comfort them. People who are of sound mind deserve the ability to avoid that sentence if they choose.

It's not the choice for everyone, but it's the choice for some. And we need to respect that choice, because nobody should have to suffer that kind of agony so that complete strangers can feel okay about how they died. If someone doesn't want this option, then that is their right. It's only a problem when they try to take that right away from others. The right to deny treatment is a medical principle that is guaranteed for all people. That shouldn't come with a screaming, agonizing price tag.

And while it might sound crass, I still have to say it: if it's not too good for my pet, it's not too good for me. Rest assured, if I found myself in Brittany Maynard's shoes I would be making the exact same decision. I have done this for creatures I loved like children, with all the heartbreak and horror that comes with it. I could do it for myself. I could do it for my husband. By allowing people full ownership of their lives when facing certain and painful death, we make it so their loved ones can participate in saying goodbye without being implicated in a crime. We allow medicine to cease suffering and serve the patient, as it was intended. We respect the ability of adults to choose their path for themselves and honor their religious directives.

So while it feels wrong, sometimes the answer is yes. And Brittany Maynard has spared some of her precious remaining time to help us learn that lesson. I hope her investment is not in vain.