Death Is Not Dignified: What I Wish Brittany Maynard Knew

Like most of us, I’ve read about Brittany Maynard and her choice to end her life due to cancer, sparking an intense debate on the ethics of physician assisted suicide. I do not wish to condemn Miss Maynard for her choice though it does deeply sadden me that she chose to end her life. Anyone in her position deserves only compassion. I cannot imagine being told at 29 that my life was about to come to a slow and painful end. I understand completely the wish to avoid that pain, to have “death with dignity” as they say. However, I do wish to comment on death itself, to provoke thought about what it means that we all must die and how that meaning should affect the manner of our dying.

You see, I do not think it is possible to have death with dignity because death is not dignified. Death is humiliating. It is painful, emotionally if not physically. It forces us to face the truth that we would all rather choose to ignore, that we are finite. We are fleeting. We all know that we must die and yet we all sense there is something wrong with the fact that we must die. Something deep in our souls tells us that it should not be this way and for good reason. It shouldn’t.

A world with death is not the world that God originally intended. Death came as a result of the fall of Adam. Man chose to sin and rebel against God and now, we are all born into that heritage of death. “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).” In a fallen world, death reminds us of our crimes against a holy God and the just punishment for those crimes. There is no dignity in that. Only shame. Only sorrow. This judgment, we none of us can escape.

Except for one man. Only one man, Jesus Christ, did not deserve death and only one man, Jesus Christ, could overcome it. And He did. He died a shameful, completely undignified death. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross and scorned its shame (Hebrews 12:2). Why? So that we who are dying, might die, not necessarily with dignity, but with hope. So that we who must face the reality of death in all its agony, shame, and humiliation might endure it because there is now joy set before us where once there was none.

And so our dying can be transformed from defeat to victory, from misery to beauty. We can now choose to embrace dying, every awful second because doing so can tell a lost and dying world that death does not have to have the final word. This is what I wish Brittany Maynard and all of us knew, that our suffering does not have to be meaningless or worthless. That instead of championing death with dignity, an illusion, we can champion death with hope, an anchor for our souls. For this hope we have: that we who believe in the One who conquered death shall not be conquered by death. That like Him, after the harrowing, undignified suffering of our bodies and souls, we shall see the light of life and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11).

“‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).”

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4 thoughts on “Death Is Not Dignified: What I Wish Brittany Maynard Knew

  1. Laura says:

    So you’d rather have people suffer in agony because you know what Jesus wants better than anyone else? Very Christlike.

  2. boomslang says:

    So, help me out, here. It seems to me that this young woman did precisely what you admonish people to do in your post, and that is to “embrace” death…not be afraid, etc. So, what is it, exactly, that you think she should have done differently? ‘Just curious, because as it stands, it seems like you took this young woman’s sad situation and used it as a tool to minister. But I’ve probably misunderstood.

    • standfirm says:

      I just want you to read this to hear what she is trying to say instead of reading to respond with some smart comment.
      We are to embrace death when it is our time, not embrace it on our watch. Why? Because through her sickness and journey she could have reached thousands of people. She could have used her life as a testimony to her family, friends, nurses, staff and all she would come in contact with. Instead of leaving her husband forever wondering ‘what if she would have tried? could there have been a miracle? would she have been healed? what if they found a cure next year?’ I dont care what your say but if my spouse chose to die before fighting I would put my foot down and fight back as hard as I could. No one wants their loved one to choose to die, I dont care who you are.

      • boomslang says:

        “I just want you to read this to hear what she is trying to say instead of reading to respond with some smart comment.”

        To be quite frank, I was looking to get input from the author of the post. And BTW, I actually read what she was trying to say, which it why I asked for clarification…..from her. But since you seem to be speaking on her behalf, I’ll touch on a few things…

        “through her sickness and journey she could have reached thousands of people.

        Make no mistake, as it stands, she reached thousands of people….hundreds of thousands. But I’m really at a loss as to what you (or the post’s author) think people stand to gain from knowing that a terminally ill young woman “toughed it out”, needlessly prolonging her suffering.

        “She could have used her life as a testimony to her family, friends, nurses, staff and all she would come in contact with.”

        A testimony to….? What?…watch me be brave? Watch me “grin and bear it” as my body and mind wither away to nothing?

        “Instead of leaving her husband forever wondering ‘what if she would have tried?”

        I think statistics, alone, show that certain types of cancer just don’t care one iota how hard the host “tries”. For that reason, I seriously doubt her husband is wondering such things.

        “could there have been a miracle? would she have been healed? what if they found a cure next year?’”

        I think it’s admirable when people exhibit positive thinking. I really do. But for some people, being realistic trumps wish-thinking. Thankfully, it’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves.

        “I dont care what your say but if my spouse chose to die before fighting I would put my foot down and fight back as hard as I could.”

        Fair enough. So, if you’re ever in that position, you should most definitely put your foot down. In the meantime, you don’t get to put your foot down on the behalf of other people.

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