It continues to be one of the most emotional issues of our day. Should a person have the right to terminate their life if they face impending death because of a medical condition? This issue bubbles to the surface as more states begin to legislate or place on the ballot the question of doctor-assisted suicide. It reaches the national conversation and bursts into the public's consciousness when someone becomes a cause célèbre over the issue. We only need to recall the tumultuous reaction to the Karen Ann Quinlan case (d. 1985) and Terri Schiavo story (d. 2005) to know that to be the case.
Now, Brittany Maynard has come to the forefront with a touching, intelligent and sensitive interview with a CNN Op-Ed article, where she explains her rationale for an intended doctor-assisted suicide. Maynard has an inoperable brain tumor, and the recently married 29-year-old is facing a prolonged, painful death, and even drugs might not be able to alleviate the pain. She moved from California to Oregon,where doctor –assisted suicide is legal, and received a pill that will end her life.
This issue seems separated along both generational and, to some degree, religious lines.
According to a NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll, 55 percent of Americans favor physician-assisted suicide, for those who have less than six months to live. Age seems to matter on this issue. Fifty-six percent of people 65 or older oppose the idea, with 44 percent supporting it. For American 35 and younger, the results are reversed: 59 percent support it, with 41 percent oppose it.
A common thread among media analysts and many legislators is that physician-assisted suicide is inevitable. Five states allow it, which leaves 45 states to follow suit. Some are already likening this issue to same-sex marriage, a topic that will seem benign, in my opinion, in a decade.
Massachusetts, a liberal-leaning state declined to pass the legislation by a whisker. In New Jersey, my colleague and friend, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) has introduced a bill in favor of physician-assisted suicide. “I’m within spitting distance,” he said in a news report. “This is coming sooner rather than later.”
This view of inevitability rests on the premise born out in the polling data I referenced earlier. The supporting age demographics based on this issue favor his position. As that group grows, the overwhelming majority of public sentiment will grow with it.
Many religious organizations are vocal about this issue as well offering strong opposition to physician-assisted suicide. In its most succinct interpretation, they hold that life is sacred, and death should never be hastened.
I have great respect for religious organizations, that, at their core, preach a code of love, kindness and tolerance. However on this issue, I have to take a wider view than my own personal opinions. Quite frankly, those opinions have evolved as I have spent time talking with those afflicted with terminal illness and their care givers.
Whatever my personal and religious feelings, I represent all the people in my district. My intent is to allow free choice to prevail, in particular given the unimagined consequence an issue like this can cause for someone who might need this option.
But let’s hear from Brittany Maynard, http://cnn.it/ZcmJw5 who wrote: “When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, ‘I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever's next.’ I will die upstairs in my bedroom with my husband, mother, stepfather and best friend by my side and pass peacefully. I can't imagine trying to rob anyone else of that choice.”
Brittany Maynard has said she intends to end her life Nov. 1, a few days after her husband’s birthday. Nov. 1 is All Saints Day, a day which many Christian faiths either celebrate or acknowledge. It is a day when we recognize the connection between our lives on Earth and those who have passed this way before us. I don’t know if Brittany Maynard is a saint, but her courage and consideration for those who might follow her certainly suggest a saintly approach to her departure.
When it comes time to vote on the issue of physician-assisted suicide, I will support this legislation. I will support it because we all have to face our Creator some day. And, at that time we must be ready to account for all the choices and decisions we have made in life ... and in death. That's my take. What's yours?