Death with Dignity: A daughter’s perspective after a prolonged, painful death

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Amy Neese's father
Amy Neese’s father

Brittany Maynard’s story has prompted discussions about our model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, throughout the US. Over the last week, we’ve heard from hundreds of people in support of Death with Dignity. The guest post below by Amy Neese is republished with permission. The article originally appeared on Amy’s blog, Life, Laughter and a Double Espresso.

My thoughts are with a woman I’ve never met. 29-year-old Brittany Maynard lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon. She’s beautiful, with shoulder-length brown hair and light eyes. She adores her family, loves to travel and Nov. 1, Brittany will die.

Brittany has an incurable, aggressive form of brain cancer. After two unsuccessful surgeries, Brittany’s only treatment option is full brain radiation. However, the side effects from the treatment could destroy her quality of life for the little time she has left. She could die in hospice, but run the risk of developing morphine-resistant pain. While the cancer eats away at her brain, she could experience personality changes and a loss of verbal, cognitive and motor skills.

Instead of radiation, Brittany made a decision. She packed up her life in California and moved to Oregon—one of only 5 states where Death with Dignity is allowed, an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with six months or less to live. In the event the dying process becomes unbearable, this act allows patients to self-ingest doctor prescribed medication that will end their life.

I read Brittany’s story on Facebook last night, and was overwhelmed by the number of those commenting on her story. Some supported her; many criticized her citing Biblical reasons. As a Christian believer, I understand her critics. However, from someone who has walked the same path as Brittany is headed, I understand her decision.

I lost my father two weeks ago. He was only 61. Like Brittany, my dad suffered from a cancer that required brain radiation. He took the chance with treatment, then we watched as everyone of Brittany’s fears materialized in my father. The radiation ultimately caused brain necrosis; the necrosis slowly but effectively ate his brain one section at a time. Although the treatment bought him more time, my father lost his quality of life. For four years, he was in chronic pain, constant angst.

My family and I were forced to helplessly watch the slow, brutal process of losing him a piece at a time. We sat beside him through numerous painful surgeries and recoveries. We stood by him as his ability to perform simple life tasks began to fail—drive a car, hold a fork, move his feet. We watched as he lost ability to comprehend and process information. We cried when he lost ability to communicate and recognize things familiar. We held his hand as he agonized from morphine-resistant pain, and fought back tears when he told us he was ready to go. In the end, we sat beside him in hospice, waiting, praying for God to bring him peace. The process was torture on my sweet daddy; the experience was heartbreaking for us.

Nov. 1, two days after her husband’s birthday, Brittany plans to ingest the pills that will end her life. She plans to be in her own bed, surrounded by family and listening to her favorite music. She will still have her mind. She will still have her dignity. She will not be in physical pain. She will have spent her final days traveling to her favorite places with those she loves.

I can’t say which way to exit this world is best; I can’t say if that final act will have any bearing on the eternal soul. I can only wonder, if given the chance again, would my dad have chosen a different path?

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center



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