An Open Letter to Brittany Maynard

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An Open Letter to Brittany Maynard

By | 2015-03-31T19:38:15+00:00 October 29, 2014|Bioethics, Culture|

Dear Brittany,

It is with great sadness that I read about your diagnosis with glioblastoma multiforme, a most deadly form of brain cancer.  I am even more dismayed by your intention to commit suicide on November 1, and I am writing to ask that you reconsider your decision.  You emphasized in your interview, “There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die.”  And yet, you want to do just that – commit suicide.  Your defense is that this is not suicide because the “glioblastoma is going to kill me” anyway.

Instead of suicide, you speak of dying “with dignity.”  Unfortunately, this concept in our contemporary society has become a euphemism for committing suicide – deliberately choosing to kill ourselves when we decide it is most expedient.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta uses the term in its proper sense, when she described the work she started at the Kalighat Nirmal Hriday in India.  Dying with dignity in this proper sense means caring for those who are dying, especially the destitute poor, so that they may see love and know they are not alone.  Some of the dying persons whom the sisters pick up from the street or the gutters only live a few hours, but they experience a love and tender compassion given with human hands that mirror the great love and overwhelming compassion that our God has for each one of us.

True dying with dignity is not short-circuiting that great gift of life, a freely given gift from God, but rather continuing to love in all circumstances, even those of great pain and suffering.  We are stewards, not owners, of this gift of life.  Thus, are we not responsible if we should abuse this gift or encourage others to do so?  Clearly you have an understanding of an afterlife.  Otherwise, you would not have asked your mother to travel to Machu Picchu, telling her that you would meet her there.  But I would ask you to consider that since an afterlife exists, do not the actions we take here on earth impact that afterlife?  Would not a callous shortsightedness with respect to this life on earth lead to a comparable restriction of any possible fulfillment in the afterlife – whether through our self-understanding of the afterlife or God’s?

In watching your video, one of your most telling comments was about the medicine:  “[I] know that it’s there when I need it,” and thus I know that I can “pass peacefully” when I am ready.  Death is not our friend to relieve the pain and suffering.  Death, St. Paul writes, is the last enemy to be overcome (1 Cor 15:26).  We must persevere in our faith and in our life, even in great suffering.  This means not trusting in medicines that are designed to kill us, but instead holding tightly to the wood of the Cross that Christ Himself used in His own triumph over death.

You may not realize what a great gift you have been given because it comes with so much pain and tragic suffering.  In the opening of the video you speak very beautifully about what it means to be told at 29 years old that you only have a few years left to live, let alone only six months once the further diagnosis came.  You note how little time there is and how important it is to let your loved ones know how much you love them.  This is a great reminder for us all.  Every day in the United States, on average 100 people die in car crashes. Only two weeks ago two sisters were killed in a car crash just outside of Washington, DC, leaving a combined 10 children without a mother.  Your gift of being able to say goodbye and to focus on what is truly important here on earth during your last months is a wonderful blessing – and a reminder to us all of how fragile and precious life is.  We should never waste a day or a moment in telling everyone how much we love them.

You mention that the date for your intended suicide was carefully chosen so that you could celebrate your husband’s birthday in late October.  I am not sure if you realize the full import of the chosen day – November 1st is the Feast of All Saints.  This is a feast day that celebrates all of the saints in heaven, especially those who have not been formally canonized by the Church.  We celebrate these people for the holiness of their lives, those who day after day lived out the greatness of God in little and unknown ways.  These are persons of our families and our neighbors, some of whom, in spite of great tragedy and suffering, did not give up on life.  They lived to the end as faithful witnesses to the great love, mercy, and compassion of our God.

Invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bl. Theresa of Calcutta, and all the angels and saints, I beseech you to reconsider your decision to commit suicide on November 1st and instead to embrace the cross with all its suffering, remaining forever in the hands of God.

I pray that God may always grant you His peace,

Br. Nicholas

Photo Credit: Joseph Chen, O.P.

About this Brother:

Br. Nicholas Schneider, O.P.
Br. Nicholas Schneider, O.P. was born and raised in Vermont. He spent his final semester of high school studying in Russia, and went on to earn a BA in History and Russian at Youngstown State University (OH) and an MA in Russian History at Georgetown University. He served as Director/Assistant Dean for Admissions at Georgetown University School of Medicine for five years prior to entering the Dominicans. On