Bruce Maiman

How we die is no one’s business but our own

Brittany Maynard died Nov. 1 after taking lethal medication under Oregon’s law that allows the terminally ill to end their own lives.
Brittany Maynard died Nov. 1 after taking lethal medication under Oregon’s law that allows the terminally ill to end their own lives. Compassion & Choices

Some suggest that the death of Brittany Maynard, the California woman who, in the face of terminal brain cancer, chose to end her life in Oregon, has rekindled a national debate on assisted suicide.

I’m not sure it has. I don’t think it will. I don’t think it should.

Why are we even debating what is nothing more than a private decision on a very personal matter that is absolutely nobody else’s business? Perhaps because it’s too much for the sanctimonious to resist.

Advocates have learned to shun the term “assisted suicide,” preferring instead to call it “aid in dying,” or “compassionate care.” I have a better term: “Freedom.”

Opponents say that actively ending a life, no matter how frail, is a moral violation. Whose morals? Yours? What makes yours so special, and who are you to impose them on those who feel they are doing what is in their best interests, especially since that choice will impact you in no way whatsoever?

In other words, “Who died and left you in charge?”

Annoyingly, these interlopers tend to be small-government conservatives and people of religious conviction.

What is it about such conservatives wanting to control every aspect of our personal lives while simultaneously trumpeting their love of small government? How often have religionists (and conservatives) complained loudly in the same-sex marriage debate that they’re sick and tired of having the gay agenda shoved down their throats? How is it any different when moralists are doing the same thing on the matter of assisted suicide?

Moralists insist we should endure our remaining months, even if it means excruciating pain, because every life is precious. Yet we treat our terminally ill pets more humanely.

They fret about those who might be harmed, but don’t consider people who might be helped. Nor can they demonstrate how Brittany Maynard’s decision directly impacted their lives.

Some opponents claim that whole categories of people – the elderly, the poor, racial minorities, the physically or mentally disabled – may choose assisted suicide unnecessarily because laws and safeguards put in place to prevent abuse of the practice are being ignored.

If there’s so much abuse, why do we only see the same four names of these abused victims in every op-ed opposing assisted suicide? Four names, all from Oregon, over and over, in a state where, from its legalization in 1997 through January 2013, 752 died from physician-assisted suicide, according to state public records. Their median age was 71, and they were overwhelming white, college-educated cancer victims in hospice. Private insurance covered 63 percent of the cases.

More to the point, the argument looks through the wrong end of the telescope. If there’s abuse, it’s not the fault of legalized assisted suicide. It’s the fault of the system regulating it. Fix that, rather than throwing out the law. We don’t ban cars, firearms or elections because of poor drivers, irresponsible gun owners or people who don’t vote.

We agonize over health care costs, yet most spending occurs in the final months of life when death is inevitable. We celebrate medical advances such as organ transplants that extend life beyond what is “natural.” Why prohibit a choice to use advances to end a life that has become medically unsustainable?

We say we revere personal freedom, but we deny it to those wanting the freedom to make a personal choice.

Assisted suicide is now legal in five states. The matter appears settled in the minds of the public. A recent Gallup survey found 7 out of 10 Americans supporting some form of physician-assisted suicide, up from around 50 percent in the 1970s. That’s an even better mandate than Republicans got on Election Day.

I’m not asking the state, or society, to “embrace” anything other than individual autonomy. “Death with dignity” isn’t about being allowed to die; it’s about having the freedom to choose how and when. Until you have the freedom to choose the time of your death, it cannot be said that you are entirely free.

Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @Maimzini.