Editorial: Deciding between life or death

When someone is in great agony and, barring an act of God that won’t come, is going to die, is it better to let them die quickly or let them suffer for as long as is humanly possible?

Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newlywed was diagnosed in January with the most aggressive form of terminal brain cancer. She was told chemotherapy and radiation may prolong her life, but it would not save it. She was going to die and nothing could stop that.

After talking to her doctors who told her the truth, that dying was going to be a slow and painful process, she stopped worrying about what she couldn’t control – dying – and focused on what she could control; how she died.

Maynard moved from California to Oregon, one of three states that has a “Death with Dignity” law. The law allows suffering, terminally ill patients to use prescribed medication to end their own life when they want – peacefully.

Last spring, Maynard began to have seizures and excruciating headaches. About a month ago, she told TIME Magazine that those symptoms were becoming longer and more painful.

She decided she wanted her life to end on her own terms. To be free of pain, and to be able to be sure she had all her friends and family with her when it happened.Then she made a bucket list of things to do.

Over the past six months she lived life to the fullest, traveling the world and spending all her time with her husband and family.

The date she had set to die was Nov. 1.

Leading up to that, she spoke on many occasions to media outlets about her decision, propagating her belief that one should be able to die with dignity, not incoherent and crippled by excruciating pain. At one point she said she might change the date to later than Nov. 1, but her symptoms grew worse.

When Nov. 1 came, she stayed true to her plan, took a doctor-prescribed mix of barbiturates (painkillers), and she died as she intended — peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones.”

The country, and the world sent an outpouring of love and support to Brittany, but there were some who sent hate and condemnation.

Matt Walsh is a 27-year-old with a blog that receives a great amount of attention because of the controversial content he posts. Lately, he is most notably known for condemning those with mental illness that who their own lives, as when Robin Williams passed away. Now with Maynard’s death, he has made it abundantly clear through his posts that people who take their own lives are cowards, regardless of the situation or circumstances.

While his controversial remarks may generate more hits for his blog, they also generate hits to the already hurting hearts of the families of Robin Williams, Brittany Maynard and others who have seen no other way out but to take their own lives.

To be fair, in his Twitter bio, Walsh does post he is a “bourbon enthusiast.”

Then again, we don’t think any amount of alcohol could make us publically and emotionally abuse the families of suicide victims to gain followers and attention.

There are plenty of others who have posted comments on social media condemning Maynard’s decision. Maybe if she had read all of the wisdom from the tens of thousands of terminal brain cancer survivors and heard their first-hand experience advice via Facebook comments she would have changed her mind.

If you had the power to decide whether someone lived or died –giving them no say in the matter – would you exercise that power over them?

Apparently tens of thousands of people would have exercised the power of deciding whether Brittany Maynard could make that decision. Many people exercise that power over others anyway. We call them murderers.

But to bring it full circle, it comes down to one question: if a person were entirely engulfed in 2,200 degree fire, would you put them out of their agony, or would you be Matt Walsh and stand and watch until the screams stopped?