Radio and tv networks and popular print media are saturated today with the news that Brittany Maynard, a twenty-nine year old California woman with a brain tumor that is usually fatal, having moved to Oregon because that state has legalized assisted suicide, plans to die on November 1, approximately six months after receiving a prognosis giving her that amount of time to live.
Brittany’s case is tragic, as serious illness always is in one so young, but even more tragic is the fact that she has fallen victim to Compassion and Choice’s well-crafted propaganda and has been enlisted to spend her last days, rather than enjoying time outdoors, as she says in her film she wants to do, in propagandizing for assisted suicide herself, perhaps recruiting more people to be victims.
We hope this post finds its way into Brittany’s hands, because we want her to know that she could find far more meaning, as well as more days with her family, more time to enjoy the things she loves, by turning away from this path and especially by becoming an advocate for suicide prevention rather than suicide enablement. What a difference she could make by doing so, not just for herself but for others whose very life is threatened by any publicized suicide.
Why do we fear that Brittany is a victim rather than the primary actor in this drama?
- We wonder if Brittany knows that a few people have survived glioblastoma for as long as 15 years. A small amount of research on the internet led us to the following story: http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/MC_hope/Story_John.htm#.VDVYgBawTlc. Brittany has already or shortly will have outlived her own prognosis of six months. Her brain tumor is the same or very similar to that from which Senator Ted Kennedy died. His widow, writing in the Cape Cod Times, noted that he received a prognosis of 4-6 months but lived 15 very meaningful months before dying naturally with dignity: http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121027/OPINION/210270347/0/SEARCH. Why on earth would Brittany want to waste whatever time she has?
- Brittany says the answer to that question is that chemotherapy would make her lose her hair and that the tumor would eventually turn her into a different person. The man who has lived 15 years with a tumor the same as hers no doubt would have died had he refused treatment because of fear of its side effects. He says there were few, but even if there had been many, would 15 more years of life not have been a good tradeoff? Victoria Reggie Kennedy says nothing about Ted’s becoming a different person, but the man we saw at the Democratic Convention in 2008 had a disability, slurred speech and some difficulty walking, not a personality change that would have made him someone different.
- Does Brittany know what her public statement that she will commit suicide to avoid living with a loss of her perfect beauty or a disability says to those who lives with a disability every day, sometimes for many years, sometimes for their whole lives, lives which they are being told in contradiction to their experience are not meaningful? We suggest she read some of the plethora of articles like this one about how the disability rights community feels devalued, but also extremely threatened, because laws aimed at saving money are being added to pressure they already feel to die from doctors who do not consider their lives worth living: http://www.notdeadyet.org/2014/05/ndy-challenges-nys-medicaid-proposal-to-save-money-by-steering-people-to-choose-death-over-living-with-disability.html.
- Does Brittany know that the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf) and the US National Institutes for Mental Health (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/recommendations-for-reporting-on-suicide.shtml) have issued strong warnings against media romanticization of suicide, because there is evidence that it leads to suicide contagion? Does she know that the non-assisted suicide rate in Oregon, which had been declining for a decade, began to rise in the year 2000, a year after the first report on the implementation of legal assisted suicide, and has continued to rise, at a rate that is consistent with such contagion? Does she know that the chief cause of non-assisted suicide deaths among women is poisoning with prescription or non-prescription drugs? Does she realize that media coverage about her can affect other people? A nurse named Nancy Valko has been fighting assisted suicide since her daughter’s media-enabled non-assisted suicide death. She writes, “This is dangerous as well to other vulnerable people like my 30 year old, physically healthy daughter who visited these kinds of websites and read “Final Exit” before taking her own life using the suicide techniques she learned (quoted with permission; contact True Dignity for Ms. Valko’s contact information).” Compassion and Choices does know, and its choice to finance and produce suicide “ads”, complete with soft music and beautiful people like Brittany, strongly indicates that it does not care, but does Brittany know and not care?
- Brittany says she will die with only her family and one friend present, but has she considered that the failure of the three US state assisted suicide laws to require disinterested witnesses to be present at the time the drugs are taken leaves anyone who has filled that prescription and has the drugs in his possession completely vulnerable to pressure, to being forced to take the lethal dose, or even to being given it without his or her permission? We are told that many people who get the prescriptions never use them, but there is no way we can know that all those who do die from the drugs do so willingly. As elder care attorney Margaret Dore has said, “Even if the patient struggled, who would know?” Does Brittany know about Thomas Middleton of Bend, Oregon, suffering from ALS, who appointed a realtor friend the trustee of his estate, then moved into her home and died within a few days of assisted suicide drugs he had already acquired? The realtor immediately sold the house and put the money into her own accounts. She and her husband are serving long sentences after being convicted on multiple counts of financial fraud in other cases, but the Thomas Middleton case was dropped, not because of lack of evidence but because the state said there was no more money to be recovered and prosecuting it would be too expensive: http://www.ktvz.com/news/state-dropping-tami-sawyer-fraud-case/22719618. Who knows how Thomas Middleton actually died? Does Brittany Maynard know that the assisted suicide laws she wishes to champion may be enabling murder? Has she thought about the fact that not all families are as nurturing and selfless as hers seems to be? Wealth is not a guarantee of non-vulnerability to abuse of the Oregon law. In fact it may be an indicator of the opposite.
We at True Dignity express our deepest sympathy to Brittany Maynard and her family. We also call on them urgently not to compound a tragedy by allowing themselves to be used to advance the “movement” to enact assisted suicide in more US states than Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. She might or might not be one of the people with glioblastomas who live lives much longer and much more meaningful than she seems to have been led to believe she can., but she will never know if she commits suicide on November 1. If she is absolutely certain about her decision and cannot be persuaded to change her mind, we are compelled to tell her that we believe that by getting a lethal prescription and publicizing it, she has shirked a responsibility to protect the autonomy she claims to want for each of us, because the media coverage of her will have a deleterious effect on the autonomy of people with existential problems other than terminal disease, and of those made vulnerable to abuse by age, sickness, or disability that requires care. Whatever her own decision, we call on Brittany to undo some of the damage already done by immediately announcing either that she has decided to show the watching world what a dignified natural death can be or that she is cutting off all publicity about the rest of her days. To Compassion and Choices, we say: Shame, shame, shame on you.