We are all terminal

Morgan White
Opinion Editor

Watching my grandmother die has overshadowed all other memories I’ve had of her. Perhaps that’s due to how young I was. When you’re 11 years old and the person you’ve believed has loved you most is laying on their deathbed, incoherently moving their hand from the side to their mouth because they believed they had a cigarette in hand, it’s hard to look past that.

It’s hard to remember that my grandmother was not her cancer. It’s hard not to notice that when she was unable to do anything else, she still knew the motions that were necessary for smoking. I don’t look down upon Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old right-to-die advocate, for ending her life with the help of a physician.

Illustration by Della Sigrest

If my grandmother had the same ability and wish to do so when her cancer spread to her brain, I would have stood by her. It’s not selfish; it would have been something that made my grandmother’s death far easier on her and the family. We wouldn’t have seen my grandmother writhing in pain at the end. I wouldn’t still feel guilty 10 years later for freezing upon saying goodbye because she was comatose and I was scared. She would have been lucid enough to say goodbye to.

Maynard was diagnosed with grade 2 astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer, on Jan. 1. She had brain surgery to remove the cancer and upon her return to the doctor in April she was diagnosed with glioblastoma and given six months to live. Maynard chose to end her life on Nov. 1, three days after she was reported to have said, “It doesn’t feel like the right time right now.”

Doctors had remarked to Maynard that her tumor was the largest that they had seen and that they were unsure how she was still able to speak. The tumor was located in the area of her brain that controlled language and speech. The doctors were unsure of a lot of things when it came to Maynard’s tumor. No one can be sure of the pain Maynard was in. Being unable to control functions of your brain which once operated correctly is nothing short of horrific.

What the facts show is that there was room for hope for Maynard. There may not have been hope that the terminal diagnosis could have been reversed, but that these doctors gave Maynard six months to live and she was still speaking at the end of it shows that perhaps if she let fate lead the way it would have at least led to several more months of bearable life.

I’m against setting a date. She could have shared moments with her husband that he would have cherished and been able to spend precious moments with her family as she waited. She could have been a force to be reckoned with, not only in her advocacy for the Death With Dignity act, but for glioblastoma as well.

Life is a grand scheme of suffering. With pain there is growth. We are happy in the absence of pain because of what we’ve endured to get to those points in our life. When it gets to the point when it’s too much, when the pain is irreversible, can we label that assisted suicide? It’s not cowardice to not want to suffer. Society views those who suffer the most as being truly courageous.

Is it selfish to suffer when the ability to do otherwise would save your family from only being able to remember the end when looking back at your life? I can’t answer that question; any person who is a cancer survivor has my utmost respect. I wish I could have told Maynard that she wasn’t merely a ripple in people’s lives. She was a tidal wave and she could have held on a bit longer and accomplished far greater things than what she had begun to do. I’m unsure whether that life would have been worth living, though.

We are all terminal, but no one can tell me they know exactly when my life will begin to be unlivable, no doctor can tell me that I have an exact expiration date. The human life is a remarkable one. Expiration dates don’t exist for as long as your will to live is still strong, or at least flickering. I support the decision made by Brittany Maynard, but I wish her focus had been on changing the fact that there was little funding for research on her disease. She had the ability to change the way doctors handled other patients’ treatments.

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