I write and talk frequently about how to live life on your own terms -- how to make the most of the days you have and enjoy what you do with purpose and passion. But have you ever thought about the right to die on your terms?
I'm not talking about accidental deaths or wrongful deaths. I am referring to rightful deaths -- the right to die on your terms if you face a life threatening, life ending illness. Most of us thankfully don't need to think about it. But if you had the option, how would you choose and would you make your wishes known?
A story is circulating about Brittany Maynard who at age 29 has been diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor that is incurable. In April of this year, she was given six months to live. Brittany has chosen to die on her own terms on November 1 just after her husband Dan's birthday rather than experience any more prolonged suffering.
To do this she had to move to Oregon, which in 1997 enacted the Death with Dignity Act, allowing terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose. Vermont and Washington are two other states that have similar acts.
The non-profit Death with Dignity National Center states that "the greatest human freedom is to live, and die, according to one's own desires and beliefs. From advance directives to physician-assisted dying, death with dignity is a movement to provide options for the dying to control their own end-of-life care."
It's a shame you have to relocate to die on your terms. But for those who are terminally ill who want to focus on the quality of their rest of their lives rather than worry about the prolonged pain of dying, it is a choice they make to put themselves and their loved ones at ease.
Many believe death should be left to God's hands. Others feel it may be best to lend a hand to help the process along to put someone out of their misery. We euthanize our beloved pets to end their pain and suffering but allow our loved ones to linger in it. And for those who lives are truly affected, a slow, anguished end of life is an indignity.
Brittany Maynard has partnered with Denver-based Compassion & Choices, which provides end of life services, to launch a campaign for the right to die with dignity.
As I write this I realize Brittany Maynard will end her life in just a few weeks. In the last few months she has embraced life with all the enthusiasm we all should do when we are healthy: taking trips, living fully in the present, spending quality time with loved ones, and learning to make peace with the medical hand she's been dealt. It reminds me that the things that set me off this week: the insane New York City traffic, an annoying client, our leaking roof, and the dog pooping all over the house, are all petty.
I hope none of us have to think about this choice in reality. But we should have our last wishes filed away somewhere in writing and with a health care proxy noted. The right to die on your terms also means making sure your wishes are clearly known so they are granted.
Brittany Maynard's choice to die on her own terms and advance Death with Dignity in her final days is an inspiration no matter what your beliefs. And it opens the conversation to what choices we as humans have over our own lives versus what laws dictate for us. There may be no correct answers to this issue since everyone is entitled to an opinion, but hopefully there may be more options.
To hear more about Brittany's story, visit www.thebrittanyfund.org