THE BLOG
10/22/2014 11:05 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

Whose Right to Die?

Blend Images - Dave and Les Jacobs via Getty Images

There is one indisputable fact in the world, that upon birth, every person has every reasonable right to live and live their life for as long as their body can do so -- or for however long that person agrees with society and its laws. That is not up for debate. What seems to be, however, is whether that person has a right to die. Because you can have both or none. You can't have one without the other.

Over this country's history, a person's right to die has long been stigmatized in the eyes of the public. The 1980s and '90s brought Dr. Jack Kevorkian into the living rooms of American homes. "Dying is not a crime," Kevorkian said during one of the many trials for being accused of murder. As a result of his practice, he wore a scarlet letter for the remainder of his life. His work -- which included assisting patients terminally ill with Alzheimer's and ALS -- was far ahead of his time. He was mocked and grossly nicknamed "Dr. Death," but in reality, the services he provided should have been heralded as heroic. Compassion is what he offered, a core principle in Christianity, the religion whose followers sought to end his practice and jail him. His foresight in the doctor-patient relationship was a detriment to him. To this day, the black mark on assisted suicide remains.

The topic of end of life is again reaching across kitchen tables and church pews. When Brittany Maynard was told that her terminal brain cancer would kill her in just a few years, her life, as you and I know it to be, ended. But her tumor is large, one of the largest ever seen by her doctors. Because of its size, her doctors amended their first timeline of three to five years, to just six months. It was then that the 29-year-old Maynard decided to make a drastic decision and seek out end of life options. She moved to Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. She obtained residency, registered her car, all in the hope of obtaining the proper cocktail of prescription drugs needed to end her life peacefully, before the cancer can end it painfully.

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote in his autobiography Hitch 22, published just after his death, that, "I am not battling cancer, cancer is battling me." For every instance of survival, there are cases like Brittany's who are never given a fair chance with the disease and can never win. Her disease too advanced and her body too weakened forced her to deal with the obvious outcome, only much sooner than she had planned.

She recites the side effects of the medications she now takes like reading off ingredients from a recipe. Her appearance has changed drastically from the photos of her wedding day. Cancer can be an unstoppable and brutal monster. Not only will it kill her, it will transform her body into someone unrecognizable as her body balloons, her mind fogs, and her headaches becoming more painful. Cancer is a hammer that seeks out every nail. Only it doesn't distinguish between what's a nail and what isn't. So it pounds away at everything until there is nothing left.

Cancer has a remarkable winning percentage against those it fights, and because victories are few and far between, Maynard decided to take the one last victory that she can claim-- to take her own life.

And who I am to say no?

Five states allow end of life in the U.S. -- Oregon, Vermont, Washington state, New Mexico, and Montana. World-wide, just a few countries have approved measures in allowing assisted suicide or end of life; Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. As usual, the U.S. is split on the topic. Those against the idea of end of life don't and can't distinguish between the varying reasons why someone chooses this. What it's not is the 18-year-old suffering from a first-love's heartbreak. Those against end of life legislation can't differentiate between the 40-year-old whose mortgage is under water and who's jobless. They can't separate the idea of assisted suicide and the person on the bridge waiting for the last car to pass before jumping.

End of life is for the 29-year-old diagnosed with ALS, or the 75-year-old retired army nurse who now suffers from lung cancer and doesn't want her 85-year-old husband to watch as she deteriorates day by day, only prolonging the realization that he'll soon be a widower for a second time.

It's even more difficult to draw the line between when should a person be able to make the decision to die. What do we say to the octogenarian with stage 4 brain cancer or the 90-year-old woman who lost her husband of 60 years that only wishes to join him so that they can once again be together? Does it even matter whether or not the person is sick?

Being terminally ill, regardless of age, steals a person's right to live. In the majority of cases the road to death is painful, and the quality of life suffers and diminishes with each day. So if we allow them the right to live, should we not afford them the right to die?