NRL News

Two women facing terminal brain disease, two profoundly different legacies

by | Nov 21, 2014


By Dave Andrusko

Lauren Hill

Lauren Hill

I am convinced that anyone who read our stories about Brittany Maynard would come away knowing two things. We were deeply respectful of what she was going through and the enormous impact her terminal brain disease had on this young woman and her family.

But just as our hearts were filled with compassion for Brittany, we had nothing but contempt for Compassion & Choices (formerly The Hemlock Society) which ruthlessly exploited her death to promote its life-denying agenda. They simply have no shame.

Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard

I begin this way to make something very clear. When we contrast how Lauren Hill is dealing with her terminal brain disease, it is not to score cheap points off of Maynard, who, having reversed her decision to kill herself November 1, changed her mind again the same day and took her life. That would be not only be wrong, it would be unconscionable.

Rather we talk about Lauren Hill to make a different point. Facing what appears to be imminent death, there is a better way to respond than allowing the vultures at Compassion & Choices to circle around your death (and afterwards—see below).

And that would be the path chosen by Lauren Hill, a college freshman and basketball player at Mount St. Joseph.

We’ve written about her at and What do we know?

Two weeks ago, she attracted world-wide attention by playing in a college basketball game. Weakened by a very deadly form of brain cancer– Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG)–Lauren refused to let go of her goal: playing in a college basketball game.

As you can imagine there was hardly a dry eye in the house when moments into the game against Hiram, Hill drove in for a layup. She used her off-hand because of the impact of the cancer on her right side. Lauren was mobbed by teammates.

What’s happened since this moment frozen in time? Has she had a miraculous turnaround, her cancer suddenly in remission?

Tragically, no. Lauren has grown steadily weaker, writes Joe Kay of the Associated Press, her desire to play in another game iffier even than ever. When asked about the chances, her mom, Lisa, said, ”I don’t know. I would probably say it’s maybe not realistic, but you never know on the day. So if she’s got really high spirits and her body’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, who knows?”

Nor does Kay pretend there are no extraordinary difficulties and frustrations as Lauren is now forced to use a wheelchair on occasion. ”But for the most part, she’s Lauren,” Lisa Hill said.

Lauren has her priorities. She told Kay, “I’m just worried about spending time with my family right now and trying to get to Thanksgiving. …You know, just living in the moment.”

But her impact on others has been enormous. Writes Kay

The school has received calls from people around the world who are touched by her courage and inspiration. A Layup4Lauren challenge raised money for research into the type of cancer that will shorten her life.

Hill hopes that research will lead to treatments that give others a better chance of beating the odds.

Xavier University donated $58,776 on Tuesday, money raised from tickets and merchandise as the school offered its arena for the game. The NCAA allowed the schools to move the game up by two weeks because of Hill’s condition.

So far, more than $324,000 has been donated for cancer research and treatment – far more than Hill had imagined.

Coach Dan Benjamin told Kay that Hill’s teammates are rallying behind her as her energy wanes.

”Watching her go through her journey has been very tough, knowing she’s getting weaker at times, knowing she needs us even more now,” Benjamin said. ”She’s not going to be able to get out as much as she has done in the past, so now I will have to become her voice and her teammates will have to become her voice as well.”

Thursday would have been Brittany’s 30th birthday. In “honor” of Brittany, supporters released another video.

Brittany says, “I decided to share my story because I felt like this issue with death with dignity is misunderstood by many people in our community and culture,” adding “It’s not a fear-based choice, it’s a logic-based choice.”

She goes onto dismiss the notion that she could have been coerced into her suicide. Maynard says she’s come to “realize how much our culture fears death” and how doctors see death as a “failure.”

Two quick thoughts. First, we have no way of knowing what the pressures were, especially once Maynard became the “face” of assisted suicide. What we do know is that, overwhelmingly, people who are faced with difficult medical prognoses will not necessarily have a supportive family around them.

I am watching a movie made several years ago recently released with English subtitles. (I will write about it next week.)

There is no single common denominator, but the factor must prevalent is that the people seeking “self-deliverance” were alone. They would literally rather be dead than alone. I’ve only watched the first half, but it will be interesting to see if the film pays even passing attention to the other most prevalent factor in those who seek physician-assisted suicide: the terror (that is not too strong a word) of being a “burden” on others and how that can be used to manipulate them into “asking” for “assistance in dying.”

Second, Maynard’s legacy will be very different than Hill’s. No one will be raising money to find cures in her name.

Instead, they will beat on the doors of every legislature they can, using her videos (including the one realized yesterday) as a blunt force instrument.

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