I support Brittany Maynard and Death with Dignity

Photo by Ryan McGuire, used with permission

It’s not uncommon for Mr. T to look over and see tears running down my face when I’m watching TV or videos. Usually, I’m sniffling over silly fictional storylines, but last night I got close to a full on cry fest while watching Brittany Maynard talk about her brain cancer. Maynard is currently famous (or infamous, depending on your side of this issue) for planning her death on the first of November.

At 29, Maynard was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive of brain cancers, and given a prognosis of six months. Instead of painfully succumbing to the disease (emphasis on painful, here’s a cancer forum on what she’s likely to expect), Maynard and her family decided to relocate to Oregon, one of only five states in the U.S. with right-to-die laws. She filled a prescription that will allow her to die peacefully at home, if she wants.

And you know what? I applaud her. And I applaud anyone who chooses to die with dignity. I think it’s a right that all people should have.

Some of you may be thinking: Okay Shawna, that’s just legalizing suicide. Technically, sure. (How is that still a crime, by the way?) And others might wonder: Are you advocating euthanasia? Well, no, of course not. I am a big fan of people being in charge of their lives and able to make choices about their medical care. If someone would like to avoid pain and suffering, I’m all for that.

A few years ago I read “Cancer and death: A love story in two voices,” written by Leah Vande Berg and Nick Trujillo, communication professors in my department at Sacramento State University. Leah was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and together, she and Nick documented her treatment and ultimately, death. I tell you what, if you want to sit alone on a Southwest flight, read that piece. I blubbered my way through and kept the middle seat clear.

The account burst with intimate and humiliating details of Leah’s physical deterioration, with vivid descriptions of the various bodily fluids associated with her kind of cancer. I read about the ongoing emotional torture of Leah, her husband and her colleagues, friends, and family. And I tell you: I do not want that. I don’t want that for me or my loved ones. Not even a little bit.

I think people should have access to a humane way to leave the earth, if they so choose. And before you ask me What’s wrong with hospice? I think hospice–end of life care for the terminally ill–is a critically important option, too.

And that’s the key really, I think there should be more options for a good death–death on your own terms, if possible.

What do you think?


– Talking about death and dying: Whether you’re 22 or 82, make your end-of-life care decisions now
– If I should die tomorrow
– Contemplating suicide? Please think about your family and friends first. You’ll be sorely missed.
– A life cut short. Remembering my first love.
– Grief accumulated: Thoughts on secondary trauma, writing and resilience

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