Physician assisted suicide on YouTube

Physician assisted suicide (PAS) is in the news in a way that is different than before. It is not because it is election time and a state has a ballot initiative about legalizing PAS. It is because a 29 year old woman with an aggressive malignant brain tumor, Brittany Maynard, has chosen to use PAS to end her life and chosen to do it very publicly by using her story to promote the legalization of PAS in a video about her choice produced in cooperation with the euthanasia advocacy group Compassion and Choices.

The video focuses on her desire to be autonomous. She states very clearly that she wants to be in control of the circumstances of her death and that she considers it her right to choose the manner of her death. There is no denying that PAS can be seen as the ultimate act of autonomy. The question is whether insisting on our own autonomy and being in control is what is morally right. God has given us the ability to make choices and he allows those choices to have real effect, but that does not mean that all choices are good. We can at times exercise our autonomy in ways that are not good. We can be prideful or controlling or self-centered. I say we because I am not saying that this particular person’s choice necessarily involved those wrong motives. It is simply that as fallen human beings our autonomous choices often involve those things and are wrong. One hint of what underlies Brittany Maynard’s choice is found in the section of the video in which her mother begins to cry when she talks of her daughter convincing her to take a trip to Machu Picchu where the mother is afraid to go by telling her that she will meet her there. There is a suggestion that she desires not only to control her own death, but her mother’s life as well.

A second video that was released a few days before the day Brittany Maynard had announced she was going to end her life is addressed to her by Maggie Karner, a woman in Connecticut who shares with her the diagnosis of stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme and will also soon die of her brain cancer. Her video, which was produced by the Family Institute of Connecticut (an advocacy group for traditional Judeo-Christian family values), pleads with Brittany not to end her life, but to live out as much of it as she can. Her perspective is that life is valuable and living life, even when autonomy and ability are impaired, is meaningful to her family and others who love her. To make her point she relates the story of her father who lived for five months after becoming quadriplegic and tells of how much the intimacy she shared with her father during the time she helped care for him in his helplessness meant to her. She does not condemn Brittany for her choice but calls out to her like one would call out a plea not to jump to someone preparing to jump off a building (her analogy).

Unfortunately Brittany Maynard did not head that call and took her life a few days later.

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Carol J. EblenSteve PhillipsJon Holmlund Recent comment authors
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Jon Holmlund
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Jon Holmlund

Is there a new PAS ballot initiative in Massachusetts? I looked at their state election results from yesterday and PAS did not appear to be included in their four “ballot questions” that were up for vote. Is there a new push for a new vote? I believe that they narrowly defeated a PAS initiative in 2012, and that that one was what prompted the NYT online piece “Four Myths About Physician-Assisted-Suicide” by Dr. Emanuel, that I recently linked to from this blog.

Carol J. Eblen
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Carol J. Eblen

Obviously, the country is going to have a serious discussion about the right to live and the right to die under state and federal laws and public health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. Compassion and Choices wants to confine the discussion to the right to die and not press for clarification under state and federal laws of both the right to live and the right to die. The idea of physician assisted suicide for the terminal patient is very attractive to the young and older generations as well because it offers control over the circumstances of one’s death. Fast and easy… Read more »