By now you’ve probably read about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer. Or you may have seen her gripping, 6-minute video.
Brittany and her husband recently moved to Oregon, a state where aid in dying is legal. With little time remaining, Brittany has used her final months to seek adventure and connect with loved ones. She has a contagious smile, a supportive family, and a prescription to end her life on her own terms. She may do this on November 1st.
You may also have seen the open-letter to Brittany by Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old mother of 4, who has terminal breast cancer. Yesterday, Christian author Ann Voskamp featured Tippetts’ letter titled, Dear Brittany: Why We Don’t Have To Be So Afraid of Dying & Suffering that We Choose Suicide, on her blog, A Holy Experience. Since then, Kara’s letter begging Brittany “not to take that pill” has been shared nearly 800,000 times.
Unlike the women listed above, I do not have a terminal illness. But I have decided to join this discussion for several reasons. The first is that, as Kara’s letter states, “we are all dying.” So I think it’s safe to say that we all have a voice in these sensitive end-of-life issues. The second reason concerns the fact that my 4-year-old son died from a malignant brain tumor in 2012. As his primary care-giver, I had the intimate experience of watching him die. I want to share the perspective of one who has had to pick up the pieces after a life-shattering event like this. And finally, as a Christ-follower, I’d like to offer an alternative to Kara’s message. While Kara identifies as a Christian, her letter does not speak for all Christians. And though I appreciate her sincerity and openness, I believe her letter posits at least three common, harmful misconceptions.
Misconception #1 – Death is Beautiful
Kara writes to Brittany, “You have been told a lie. A horrible lie, that your dying will not be beautiful. That the suffering will be too great.” Then she pleads with Brittany not to take the pill that will end her life, saying, “Yes, your dying will be hard, but it will not be without beauty. Will you please trust me with that truth?”
Nearly two years ago I watched my son die from a malignant brain tumor. Trust me, Brittany has been told the truth. My son’s death was not beautiful. His suffering was great. Unfortunately for many, the dying process is quite ugly. And though most of us want to delay death at all costs, in some cases suffering exceeds even the ugliness of death.