Death With Dignity: Why Should Religion Be Allowed to Butt In?

Posted on October 10, 2014


I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?

Now that I’ve had the prescription filled and it’s in my possession, I have experienced a tremendous sense of relief. And if I decide to change my mind about taking the medication, I will not take it.

Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace….

– Brittany Maynard


Many of you have heard of Brittany Maynard, the young woman dying of a brain tumor, who has elected to end her own life on 1 November and for that purpose, has moved to Oregon – which has strong “death with dignity” laws including the right to request a terminal dose of medication from a physician… i.e., assisted suicide. (Read her story in her own words here).

For some reason, her story has sparked controversy even though Oregon’s laws date to 1997, and since then, some 752 people have used physician-assisted suicide to end their lives. Maybe the controversy over Maynard is because she is young, just 29; maybe her just-married story is more heartbreaking than that of an older person who has lived a full life; maybe it’s just because she’s pretty.

We all die. It’s only a matter of when, and how. I can very easily imagine choosing my own time and manner of death if I were to become aware that my “when” was soon and inevitably approaching, and that my “how” was going to be agonizing, painful, undignified, frightening, hopeless – and especially if it was also going to be lonely. When my father passed away, my brother and I were both there. If he wanted something to drink, if he needed to be shifted in the bed, if he was too hot or too cold – or just wanted some conversation – one of us was there, and instantly attending to his wants. Do you think an overworked nurse with a lot of other patients to tend to will sit by your bedside like that? No. So unless you have a round-the-clock dedicated friend or relative, you will be frightened, in pain, hopeless, and cold or hot or thirsty or bored or bothered by the TV noise or lying on some uncomfortable wad of bedding that you can’t fix for yourself. Oh, and by the way, your estate will be paying a pretty penny for these “privileges,” so this hefty purchase of pain, suffering, and fear for you means less college tuition or house payment money for your heirs.

Now I ask you, does that make a lick of sense?

If someone wants to fight to the bitter end for every scrap of life they can muster, fine. But if someone wants to exit on their own terms while they still can, why should anyone stand in their way? Should this not be a matter of personal choice?

Well, here we go with religion butting in again.

This topic was discussed this week on CNN’s Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, and one of the guests was Pastor Dave Watson. Here’s the nutshell of my gripe from the transcript:

BALDWIN: Yet, Pastor Dave, as a man of God, I think you say this is not in our hands. This is in someone else’s hands to decide?

DAVE WATSON, PASTOR, CALVARY CHAPEL OF STATEN ISLAND: The reason why Brittany has value and why we want her to have dignity is because she’s made in the image of God. That’s why she’s important to us. That’s why we’re concerned about her. She’s made in the image of God. If we believe she’s made in the image of God, we believe that God determined when she would be born and God should determine when she’s going to die.

I certainly sympathize. And when I read the story, I prayed for the woman and her family. I can’t imagine the agony for a decision like this. But I don’t think that necessarily we’re saying the right things about death. If she showed, instead of a pill box, a gun, and she said, on November 1st, I’m going to put a gun in my mouth and blow my head off —


BALDWIN: She didn’t. It’s a pill. It seems a peaceful way to go versus this violent way this cancer could take her.

WATSON: Do we know that? Do we know it’s a peaceful way to go? In other words, when a person’s life is ended, do we understand what goes on behind the scenes within their mind? We know biologically, but within their mind and their heart, the tearing of the soul from the body. Do we know that that’s not violent?

Aaaaaaarrrrrghh!!  At that point Hubby had to restrain Lila from hurling the TV out the window as I yelled a few incomprehensible things.

Point One: I don’t want Pastor Dave’s or anyone else’s religious beliefs to determine the course of major events in my life or death. You do not get to butt in and tell me that I can’t control my own destiny because I am “made in the image” of your God (which I do not believe). If Pastor Dave can control my destiny with this argument, so can a Pastafarian who thinks I am made in the image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Point Two:  Spare me your prayers, that insipid form of non-help so often offered by the religious folk who stand in the way of relief for the suffering. If it makes you feel better somehow, go for it, but do not presume that it actually serves as some kind of viable replacement for a real-world solution that you just personally don’t like. And don’t tell me about it, because I think it’s creepy.

Point Three: If she said she was going to shoot herself instead of use a pill, that’s still her choice, in my opinion, especially if folks like you make it too hard to obtain pharmaceutical means.

Point Four: Are you really challenging whether a pill is a peaceful way to go? First, you try to shock us by imagining the gun scenario (a violent death) instead of the drugs she actually plans to use. Then you give us some religious theoretical tripe about the “behind-the-scenes” experience of death, the “tearing of the soul from the body” – which some of us don’t buy into, but even if true, wouldn’t this also occur after a few months of agony and indignity? The pill certainly would not impose more pain and suffering than Ms. Maynard would endure if left to Nature’s course.

So back the hell off, Pastor. You can make your choice based on your beliefs. You don’t get to choose for Ms. Maynard.