Hemlock Society & Foundation of Florida

Brittany Maynard's message was about choice


by Britt Kennerly

When I heard that Brittany Maynard had died, I surprised myself and didn't cry.

Instead, I was overwhelmed with relief that a bright, beautiful young woman will no longer suffer — because she had a choice.

Maynard, 29, elected to end her life Nov. 1, through Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. She had stage 4 malignant brain cancer, diagnosed Jan. 1. The prognosis was so bleak, she moved to Portland from California with her husband, mother and stepfather to enjoy some quality of life in the time she had left.

She went public with her decision earlier this year, sparking, via interviews and social media, a much-needed debate about physician-assisted suicide and dying in the United States.

In the end, after checking off some items on her bucket list, a decline into seizures and conversations I hope I never have to face, Maynard died on the day she selected, reportedly in the arms of her loved ones.

Indialantic resident Sarah Hill Hansen's father, Jeff Hill, passed less than six months after his diagnosis with cancer in 2003. Two weeks before he died, he hopped on his Harley one last time.

Even with hospice care, Hill suffered. Hansen firmly believes in the right to die unencumbered by other's fears or beliefs. We talked about how we can take our pets to the vet to end their suffering, "but for a human being, there is little legal recourse," Hansen said.

For his last 48 hours, her father "was merely a corpse passing air intermittently while being ravaged by pain," Hansen told me.

"He was gone, no light in his eyes, the smell of death oozed from his pores ... I sat with him, stroking his head, holding his hands, begging him to go. Telling him over and over, that we all loved him, that everyone was here, that it was OK, that it was time, that he needed to let go. My father needlessly suffered his last 48 hours. Nobody should have to go through that."

In five states, that doesn't have to happen. Oregon passed a law, 17 years ago, allowing the terminally ill of sound mind to ask a doctor for a prescription of lethal drugs. Right-to-die options are strictly defined. The doctor does not administer the drugs.

Is it ethical? That's subjective and most often, based on personal and/or religious beliefs. I find it beyond belief that detractors have gone online and on the air to announce that Maynard will go to hell. That she owed it to her family not to cheat them out of time with her.

"I think as with many things in life, people do not fully comprehend situations until they are placed in the midst of them," Hansen said.

That is why, while I support those who choose to face impending death by fighting until the end, I will not judge a young woman who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro but now faced an insurmountable fate.

Rather, I celebrate Maynard's bravery and having an informed, legal, humane choice and voice in life's biggest decisions.

It hit me, as I wrote, that this column will run on Election Day.

On Nov. 1, just days after a trip to the color-splashed Grand Canyon and with the support of people she loved most, Brittany Maynard voted in a big way, too.

"The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers," she wrote in a final Facebook post.

"I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type …. Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!"

Amen to that, sweet baby. Rest in peace.

And with all my heart, I thank you.

Contact Kennerly at 321-242-3692 or bkennerly@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @bybrittkennerly or at Facebook.com/bybrittkennerly.


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