Let us die with dignity

2014-11-25 15:00

In 2013, Brittany Maynard’s life held such promise. Recently married, she was looking forward to starting a family with her husband Daniel Diaz.

She would have turned 30 this week.

On January 1 this year, the young American woman was told she had grade 2 brain cancer. She had surgery, chemotherapy, the works. In April, doctors told her the bad news: the cancer was now grade 4 and she had six months to live.

Brittany created a bucket list and decided she would enjoy everything she could for as long as she had the quality of life to do so. She also decided that once she could no longer experience joy on a daily basis, she wanted autonomy to say she’d had enough.

She wanted access to prescribed drugs that, once administered, would allow her to slip into a coma and die within minutes. She and her family moved to Oregon, which has laws permitting “assisted dying”, which is also called ‘euthanasia’, the Greek word for a “good death”.

She wanted her own plight to be of service; to get people to think. She started Facebook groups, created YouTube videos and 16?million people read her story on People.com.

On November 2, she wrote her final Facebook post: “Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me?…?but would have taken so much more.”

In his speech at the Vatican to the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors last Saturday, Pope Francis spoke about “sins against God”, “false sense of compassion”, and of “assisted dying” representing a “throwaway culture” that is dangerous to the infirm and frail. The Vatican’s top bioethicist called Brittany’s choice “reprehensible”.

Last year, laws permitting assisted dying for the terminally ill were passed in Quebec, Canada, a place where there is huge Catholic influence.

In September, I listened to Véronique Hivon, the politician who spearheaded the parliamentary bill on Quebec. She said they collected people’s stories of the pain they had witnessed when family members were dying and that the sharing of these stories swung opinion in favour of the new law.

Many of us can share our South African stories of dying with suffering. This is universal. Hivon said the new legislation should not be viewed as “medical aid to die”, but as an option of choice in “end-of-life care”.

Section 12 of our Bill of Rights protects “freedom and security of the person” and “security in and control over” one’s own body.

Professor Willem Landman, the founder of EthicsSA, affirms the Constitution is designed to make decisions that transcend our individual divergent religious and moral values. We need laws that allow choice.

Lawyer and bioethics student Kwanele Asante-Shongwe writes of the principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence (“first do no harm”) and their relevance to euthanasia.

“Insisting on treating people who do not want treatment to prolong their lives violates the ‘do no harm’ principle. We hope that His Holiness [Pope Francis] will one day recognise euthanasia is in fact an act of love and affirmation of human dignity.”

Dolny is chairperson of Dignity SA, a group lobbying for changes that address the question of dignity and quality of life when we are dying

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