Brittany Maynard Delays Date with Death

Though she declared her plan to kill herself on November 1, now Brittany Maynard delays her suicide.

assisted suicide

I’m very sorry that Maynard has a terminal disease that means she will die young. I’m glad she wants to go on living for the moment.

But her willingness to both advocate legalized suicide and to recommend taking advantage of the law was foolish and wrong.

How would Maynard feel if the groups that were supporting her “right to die” told her that her mixed signals were hurting the movement?

We were all supposed to support Maynard’s actual declared date. It was considered gauche or unenlightened to want her to live longer because that took away from her dignity or autonomy.

So now she is invoking her autonomy to justify her delay. OK, but that kind of autonomy is a really lonely road. How can we agree with a decision that can be cancelled at any moment? How can we agree with a determination that Maynard doesn’t want to be determining of her destiny? If we are allowed to realize her decision can change, then we should get to hope that it does so. If we are forced to adjust to her desire to live longer then we are allowed to want her to live longer, even when she says she wants to die.

The whole point of the “death with dignity” slogan is to get other members of society to support and help a person in his or her chosen path to self-destruction. It isn’t just a private feeling but a form of public cooperation. The person announces the plan and everyone supports the plan.

But now plans have changed.

As CNN reported, “Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill woman who picked her day to die says it, “doesn’t seem like the right time.”

Brittany Maynard says she hasn’t decided yet when she’ll end her life, but it’s a decision she’s still determined to make.

“I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now,” Maynard says in a video released to CNN on Wednesday. “But it will come, because I feel myself getting sicker. It’s happening each week.”

Supporting or “helping” Maynard according to her original plan would be murder, not assisted suicide (if we leave aside the possibility that assisted suicide is murder).

What I’m trying to say is that, even if Maynard can convince herself that killing herself is morally allowable, it doesn’t follow that it is also good for her to acquire our agreement and support for that decision. There is a reason why depressed people need to be encouraged rather than supported in their depression. And there is a reason why disabled or sick people should also be encouraged.

We should all be rooting for people who are in bad circumstances. We should all be helping them live as best they can. Maynard’s end-of-life campaign wants to remove that customary assumption from society. What replaces it? A desire to only help people who want to live? A taboo on ever questioning a decision to commit suicide?

[See also, “The Robin Williams Suicide: Do We Really Want to Avoid All Moral Questions?]

Maynard talks about respect for individual choice and death with dignity and I’m sure she believes what she is saying. But her efforts can only lead to a society where life is not valued and there is less dignity.

No one wishes suffering on Maynard, but there are still many people who don’t wish her dead. Do those people need to be changed?