NRL News

What will be the Legacies of Brittany Maynard and Lauren Hill?

by | Jan 19, 2015


By Dave Andrusko

Brittany Maynard and Lauren Hill

Brittany Maynard and Lauren Hill

I was in line at the grocery store, looked to my left, and there, on the cover of People Magazine, was Dan Diaz, the husband of Brittany Maynard, who took her own life November 1, 2014.

Maynard, suffering with a terminal brain cancer, immediately became the “face of the right to die movement.” NRL’s coverage of Maynard was measured and wrapped in compassion even though we vigorously disagreed with her decision.

That wasn’t—and isn’t the case—with regards to the Hemlock Society which has morphed into “Compassion and Choices.” In our judgment, Compassion and Choices, a radical pro-euthanasia organization, cynically exploited what was the perfect scenario for them: a lovely young woman, dying a painful death, surrounded by loving family.

It was no accident that immediately after Maynard died, Compassion and Choices seamlessly linked the totally unobjectionable (even laudatory) thoughts

“In Brittany’s memory, do what matters most. And tell those you love how much they matter to you…”

to a fundraising pitch

“We will work to carry on her legacy of bringing end-of-life choice to all Americans

And the cover of People and Diaz’s interview with Meredith Vieira served to remind us that there is and always was a larger agenda than moving Maynard to Portland, Oregon, a state with no meaningful limitations on physician-assisted suicide, where she could ingest what Diaz described as a “mixture of sedatives, respiratory system depressants and water.”

Compassion and Choices is not one of those tinkering-around-the-margins organizations. As Wesley J. Smith has written, it promotes self-starvation (VSED) on its website! It

has even published a booklet about suicide by starvation for those who are not terminally ill. From the introduction to Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking

“Some call us because they feel overwhelmed by the symptoms of chronic and progressive illnesses that fill their days with misery and suffering. There are also those who may not be seriously ill but are simply ‘done.’ After eight or nine decades of life, they want information about ways to gently slip away in a peaceful and dignified manner. (Wesley’s emphasis)

Again, we’re not here to criticize Maynard or Diaz. Our job is simply to point out several truths that are obscured by a very sophisticated public relations offense.

#1. I will take Diaz at his word that Maynard died a “peaceful death” within five minutes of taking her lethal concoction. But suicide—assisted or otherwise—is often not that tidy. It can be brutal, lengthy, and extremely painful.

#2. Maynard was surrounded with caring family. But there is a reason the disability rights community fights assisted suicide. They know their lives are often not highly valued—they can be seen as little more than “burdens.” This also holds true for the very medically dependent elderly. There can be a fatal intersection between “compassion” and a desire to access an inheritance before it is spent on medical care.

#3. I’m sure Maynard and Diaz loved their dogs, which, Diaz told People, are a great source of consolation for him. But this just adds to the perfect scenario aspect (from Compassion and Choices’ perspective) of Maynard’s death. And finally

#4. There are alternatives to assisted suicide. We have written extensively about Lauren Hill, a college freshman who held her terminally brain cancer sufficiently at bay to play a handful of minutes in a handful of basketball games.

Lauren didn’t use her disease to raise money for the likes of Compassion and Choices. She used her courage and her determination and her pluck to reach her goal of raising over $1 million for “The Cure Starts Now

I would like to end with something I wrote last month which seems even more fitting now since it is a bit of a miracle that Lauren survived to the new year.

The quotes (in boldface) come from an article written by Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer. What I wrote is in italics:

Daugherty appreciates that the certainty, the almost time-specific nature of Lauren’s death, makes it difficult for the rest of us to imagine how we would respond in a similar situation. But he observes

She’s a model, though. If you believe each of us is here for a reason, you’ll find no better evidence than this 19-year-old, basketball-playing young woman from Lawrenceburg.

She appears to be comfortable answering an uncomfortable question: her “legacy.”

Last January, I said to God I’ll do anything to be a voice for this cancer and all the kids that can’t speak their symptoms. Parents are left baffled, because they don’t know what’s wrong with their kids. (Kids) can’t express what’s happening to them. I prayed I’d be the voice and that I’d do anything that gave me an opportunity to raise awareness and raise research money.

That was a couple months after diagnosis. The first couple months I was angry. Why does this happen to me? Why does it happen to anybody? I believe God has the last say. And I feel like I’ve accomplished what I intended.

How has all this changed her?

My values have switched around. My dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas. No material item matters to me. I just want to spend time with my family.

How can anyone get inside the head of a young woman on the cusp of death without writing more what we might think is going on than what Lauren is thinking? Read this and see how Lauren makes it clear:

“Heart, desire, intensity.” Lauren shows me a fine-marker drawing she did, of a hand holding a basketball. Those three words are intricately drawn, to form the hand and ball. “Playing to the final buzzer, not worrying about the last play or the play that’s coming. People get hung up on their mistakes. That’s what I like so much about basketball, that it’s a fast game, you can correct your mistakes so quickly. You can redeem yourself by doing something good.

Like any of us would, Lauren has to grapple with the loss of independence as her body shuts down, as she loses muscle. But it’s obvious—and deeply reassuring–that her family understands that and is constantly looking to reassure Lauren that they are there for her, ready to give her all the assistance she needs.

Daugherty concludes his superb column with a series of quotes from Lauren—about life, about God, about the family that is so precious to her, about asking for a cure, and about what people should remember:

“I ask God for a cure for cancer and that my family will be fine when and if I’m gone. They are who I worry about. My family and my friends.

“What is it like to know you’re dying? It’s like I want to get stuff done. Like I’m in a rush. People are told they have five weeks to live, and they live five years. I don’t know.

“I want everybody to know I never give up, even though I have my low moments and I feel like giving up, because they’re awful. Please, is it over?

“My family gets me back on track to my never-give-up. I just wish it would be easier. I know when I’m having a hard time, it affects everybody else.

“If I do pass, I don’t want people to say I lost. I want, ‘She kicked DIPG’s butt and raised a lot of money for research.’

“By the end of the year, (we) want to raise a million dollars. That’d be really awesome. That’d be the best Christmas present.”

Categories: National News