Sunday, November 2, 2014 was a defining day in the lives of two young women. Both faced a terminal death sentence in the form of incurable brain cancer. Both gave up hope of experiencing their dreams for a full life. Both had loved ones surrounding them in their time of deepest need and want. But there the road divides. For one young woman, Brittany Maynard, choosing to control her death became of supreme value yesterday. For another young woman, Lauren Hill, choosing to control how she spends her life has become of supreme value.
“Death with Dignity”,the mantra of Brittany Maynard, who chose to take her own life yesterday, is a statement containing a false presupposition. We assume the term ‘dignity’ implies that dying by means of our own choice is somehow magnified above dying without any choice. In fact, dignity is defined as “a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control.” In reality, death with dignity should more accurately be called, “Death Under My Control”. I want to choose my parting. I want to die when I choose, where I choose, how I choose, and no one is going to take that from me. Death under my control suggests that somehow choosing to swallow a pill or pushing a morphine button on an IV bag is more noble than waiting to walk through death’s door at the time appointed for me.
“The Cure Starts Now”, the rally cry of Lauren Hill and her family and friends, caused the Xavier University basketball arena to be filled with a capacity crowd of 10,000 guests yesterday who came to watch what may have been Lauren’s only college basketball experience. Lauren, with only months to live, lived out a dream yesterday as she stepped out as a starter for her team, the crowd cheering wildly for her as she took her place on the court. Fifteen minutes and two points scored later, Lauren returned to the bench, resting for the majority of the game. But with thirty seconds remaining, her coach called a time out and sent Lauren back onto the court, where she scored the final two points of the game to the roar of a stadium full of fans. Lauren Hill chose to live life yesterday, to live it to the fullest. She chose to achieve another dream yesterday, and in doing so she raised awareness and funds to advance research for a cure.
Brittany Maynard made a choice yesterday that the majority of people do not get to make. If death with dignity means getting to control your own demise, then most human beings do not die with dignity. They die by the hand of an evil perpetrator, or by the weapons of a terrorist, or from starvation, disease, catastrophic accidents, natural disasters, or old age. None of these forms of death are dignified. Death is not dignified. Death is the means by which we pass from this life into the next. Only life can be dignified. And Lauren Hill chose to life her life with dignity yesterday. Lauren may have only scored four points in the game yesterday, but in my eyes and in the eyes of thousands of people, she scored off the charts for showing us how to live our lives to the fullest no matter how many days we have left.