• Christopher Tanner

An Open Letter To Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard, who is recently married, has terminal brain cancer. She was told she would have 10 years to live, but then the tumor grew significantly and her time became much shorter. She and her family made the choice to move to Oregon, where she is allowed to “die with dignity.” And no, this does not imply that everyone who does not choose this route is not “dying with dignity.” Its not one extreme or the other.”Dying with dignity” means that a person has the legal right to choose how to end their life when facing a terminal illness. And no, this does not mean that people are for suicide in general. Believe it or not, but there are more than two ways of looking at things. Life is not all black and white, in fact the majority of it is lived in the grey.

Dear Brittany,

Thank you. Thank you for using the little time that you have remaining to bring attention to the “death with dignity” debate. I can only imagine the kind of physical, mental and emotional stress that you are currently experiencing. My imagination is not the same, nor could it be even close to the real thing. When I read about your story yesterday, my heart began to fill with an ocean of sadness. It began to swirl with emotions and thoughts as I tried to comprehend the depth and gravity of the situation that you currently find yourself in. It’s a natural reaction, to view another’s situation from your own perspective. Empathy is how we connect to one another; it’s our deepest form of love and understanding. In the vast depth of human emotion, it can be easy for anyone to lose their way. The strong emotional current can swell around us and we become lost in ourselves, lost from the initial response of love that we naturally feel for one another.


You and your family (too many people are forgetting that they support you and helped you make this choice) making the choice to use this difficult situation as an opportunity to address a hot debate issue in a large way gave me strength. Your strength was a beacon of hope; a lighthouse showing me the pathway back to that initial response of love, before the current took hold. I understand there have been many people who do not agree with YOUR decision of how to end YOUR life as you face this natural death sentence. I read about how there are many people who have sent you judgmental letters of how you are not making the right choice. Many of these people feel that you should “fight” as if they view your decision as one of cowardice. “Death with dignity” is about giving people, like you, the right to choose how to end this battle. I support you and others in the right to choose how to end your lives when faced with such a dilemma. I would equally support you and others if the other route was chosen.

I do not understand why so many people feel it is humane to “put a dog down” but a human being doing this is wrong. Are people saying that a human has the moral right to make a choice as to when another animal’s life should end, but that same human does not have the right to make that decision about their own life? Then there are many people who are against your decision, because they feel that you are going against their god’s will. Their god gives you a brain tumor that is going to end your life many years before it would have otherwise, but they are mad at you. Am I missing something? Their god takes off years of your life, but you take off a couple days or weeks of tremendous suffering for both your family and yourself, and now they have a problem. Didn’t their god give you free will and wasn’t it aware that this would happen?


Then there are those who believe that if one is for “death with dignity” that some how, that person is for suicide in all cases. You understand that facing a terminal illness is different from not facing a terminal illness, but many other people do not. This way of thinking is not rational nor is it what this issue is about. Unfortunately, that is what happens when someone gets lost in that vast ocean of human emotion. The ability to think about an issue rationally can be lost when someone is overcome with emotional stress and personal fear. That initial act of love, where we try to put ourselves in another’s shoes through empathy, can be washed away and strong emotion is all that remains. Many of these people are reaching out to you in what started as an act of love, but as the ocean took over, north became south, and their message became scrambled. Instead of a message filled with love and support for their fellow Earthling who is facing a dark and difficult ordeal, their message became one of hate and judgement.


The strongest motivation that I had for writing this letter to you is due to the amount of personal connection that I feel to this issue. Over two years ago, I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease. She made the choice to end her suffering herself just before the disease took over completely. She did not live in a state that had “death with dignity,” but I wished that she had. She would not have been forced to face this terrible choice alone. She would have had the option to talk openly about it with her family and loved ones. We all would have had the proper chance to say goodbye. Goodbyes are never easy, whether we are given the chance to say it or not. This is just a part of life that is never going to be easy, but I think it is ridiculous that people are not given the option. I fully understand why my grandma made the choice that she did, and in her situation, I would have done the same. Losing her was not easy and it never would have been. I love her dearly and am grateful for all her amazing life lessons.

She was the first person I turned too when I was 13. At the time I was suffering from depression, and suicide was something that I thought about constantly. I knew I never wanted to do it, but the emotional pain and suffering that I felt each day kept it at the forefront of my thoughts. On top of that, there was a tremendous amount of shame that I felt just for having a thought come into my head, which I had no control over. Society has this view that if we talked about suicide it would make it more likely to happen. It doesn’t. It gave me a release and was the first step towards recovery. One day, I was crying uncontrollably as the pain was too much to bare. The shame I felt to hide it could no longer hold back the tears. My grandmother rushed over to me and wrapped me in her arms. I shared my deepest fear, the shameful truth behind my pain and suffering. I was afraid that the truth would scare others and drive them away, but I only found pure unconditional love in her arms. She was the lifeboat that saved me, even though I believed I was lost forever.


She helped me realize that I needed to talk about this issue in order in order to be saved. She also taught me that suicide in general and “death with dignity” are two separate issues. Yes, I miss her everyday, but death is something that happens to all of us. It’s a part of life, one that everyone has to face. It saddens me that you do not have that much time left. I find it empowering that you have the strength to put yourself out there and give your life a greater purpose. Thank you, for myself and for my grandmother for helping increase the debate around this important issue. I hope that your remaining days are filled with love.

With love and support,

A fellow Earthling

See more from John Nelson HERE

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