I was born and raised in the Catholic Church. Although I did not attend Catholic schools, we went to church faithfully every Sunday (or Saturday evening) and attended all of the important services associated with the holidays. Growing up in the church taught that suicide was “just a cop-out” and that “people who attempted suicide were cowards.” I never really understood why someone would want to take their life when I believed that no matter what, all things could be worked out regardless of how horrible they seemed at the time.
That view changed in my adulthood after having worked in healthcare for so many years. I began to understand why someone would want to end their pain and suffering, physical or emotional. And then recently I read an article about a 29-year-old woman who is choosing to end her life. This woman, Brittany Maynard, was originally diagnosed with brain cancer and given 10 years to live. Then her diagnosis changed after surgery – she had the most aggressive type of brain cancer and was given just 6 months to live. She also learned that this death would be a particularly painful way to die.
Brittany and her family chose to move to Oregon where physician-assisted suicide is legal (right-to-die laws). Knowing what she would be facing, she embraced her right-to-die and even choose the day she would take the medication and end her own life. Watch her video and learn more about her decision at: http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/why-a-29-yearold-woman-is-choosing-to-die-on-nov-1
Lets review a couple of definitions:
Physician-Assisted Suicide – suicide by a patient facilitated by means or information (as a drug prescription or indication of the lethal dosage) provided by a physician who is aware of how the patient intends to use such means or information.
Passive Euthanasia – the ending of life by the deliberate withholding of drugs or other life-sustaining treatment; a mode of ending life in which a physician is given an option not to prescribe futile treatments for the hopelessly ill patient.
I also heard a story about a woman who was faced with difficult decisions regarding her husband’s end-of life care and treatment. She was a retired nurse taking care of her husband in their home. He was 20 years older than her and his body was just giving out – crippled by arthritis, diabetes and a failing heart. He grew weary of watching his beloved wife work so hard to take care of him when there really was no prognosis for quality of life. He told her to stop feeding him – that he wanted to end peacefully in his own home on his own terms.
People are entitled to their beliefs and I believe religion plays a huge role in shaping those beliefs regarding ending one’s life. Although suicidal thoughts are not discriminatory, wanting to end pain and suffering may go against a person’s primary religious beliefs. In the end, I find that it is what we hold most important to ourselves that shapes our views. Right or wrong, our thoughts about death are ultimately very personal.
Julie is the Director of Community Relations at Schoedinger Funeral Service.