“My Right to Die With Dignity at Age 29”

Have you seen Brittany Maynard’s incredibly moving video, below?

When 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and given six months to live, she and her husband thought carefully and decided to move to Oregon, which is one of five U.S. states that allow patients to die with dignity. Her doctor prescribed a pill that will allow her to end her life peacefully and painlessly. Maynard says she plans to die this November 1st in her bedroom, surrounded by her mother, stepfather, husband and best friend.

“There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die. I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease, but there’s not,” Maynard explained to People. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying…For my mother, it’s really difficult, and for my husband as well, but they’ve all supported me because they’ve stood in hospital rooms and heard what would happen to me.”

Here’s her video:

On a similar note, surgeon, writer and public health researcher Atul Gawande published a book yesterday called Being Mortal. He discusses how, when patients are aging and dying, the goals of medicine seem to frequently run counter to the interest of the human spirit:

I had never seen anyone die before I became a doctor, and when I did, it came as a shock….I felt as if I’d failed. But death, of course, is not a failure. Death is normal. Death may be the enemy, but it is also the natural order of things. I knew these truths abstractly, but I didn’t know them concretely—that they could be truths not just for everyone but also for this person right in front of me, for this person I was responsible for.

You don’t have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine fails the people it is supposed to help. The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit. These days are spent in institutions—nursing homes and intensive-care units—where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life.

As recently as 1945, most deaths occurred in the home. By the 1980s, just 17 percent did. Lacking a coherent view of how people might live successfully all the way to the very end, we have allowed our fates to be controlled by medicine, technology, and strangers.

I’m not sure how to wrap up a post like this other than saying I’m so moved.

  1. Does anyone know if Brittany has commented on how Duke Univ has had success using polio virus to kill the glioblastoma tumor?

  2. Many say “how brave she is” To me is just the opposite. I simply don’t get how someone can even think in dying even if they are diagnosed with a terrible disease. God’s ways are so misterious…and our mind also. If she was thinking that everything will be fine instead of preparing herself to die on a specific day and surrounded by whom and so on and so on, I’m sure she’d definitely live much more andmuch better than doctors can predict. I pray for a miracle for her, that she changes her attitude towards this beautiful gift we have: life.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. When I was a nursing student I wrote a paper on dying with dignity for my ethics class, a lot of my research came from Oregon’s polices. This is definitely a tough subject to discuss and I appreciate all the “taboo” topics you bring to your blog.

  4. I have also been thinking about this story a lot the past week. I think it’s a difficult story for people to hear because no one wants to come to terms with death. It’s coined as this big, scary, dooming thing and while it can be that, it is a part of life. I admire her for getting the word out about this option and telling other people about her choice. As a Christian, this is a hard story to understand because I do not believe it is suicide, though some may argue against that. I’m not sure what I would do in her situation but I am happy that our nation is moving toward new medical options so people do not have to suffer if they do not wish to.

  5. What a brave, beautiful person. It must be unbelievably difficult for a person, with so much living left to do, to watch her death approach with such clarity.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this video all week, and I also watched How to Die in Oregon at the suggestion of a few commenters here (which was really good but really sad).

    What I want to say about Brittany is that we shouldn’t assume that just because she is strong in the video, it wasn’t a difficult and emotional decision for her. None of us can really imagine how we would react when faced with such a grim prognosis. Cancer is a scary thing, and brain cancer can wreak havoc on your body and motor functions quickly and aggressively. She didn’t want that to happen to her or her family, but these decisions are never easy. The point here really is that the only person allowed to say when enough is enough is the person who’s suffering, and having that option can provide comfort to some.

    My dad was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 50. Growing up, he had never been shy about his desire for us to “pull the plug” if something ever happened to him. After he was diagnosed, he underwent brain surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation, and for a while he was okay. There came a time not long after, though, when he was in so much pain and had lost his ability to communicate and be autonomous. He had reached his threshold, but there was no plug to pull. He had to continue to suffer for months, during which he became a shell of his former self, before he was able to be transferred to hospice care. I often wonder how things would have been different if this process were legal in our state.

    I also want to address the argument that choosing this process somehow cheapens the fight of others. I agree that the phrase “Death with Dignity” implies that other ways of dying are void of dignity, but I think that’s more of a language oversight than an intended slight. There’s a line in How to Die in Oregon where one of the terminal women talks about how she wants to be courageous, and her friend says, “Is it not courageous to choose to avoid suffering? There’s an idea in our culture that only those who choose to suffer are brave.” I think that statement says it all; it doesn’t discredit those who choose to fight until the end (as it shouldn’t), but it also doesn’t trivialize the struggle of those who don’t. The bottom line is that this law gives individuals faced with tragic circumstances another option, and we should respect these individuals’ rights to have control over their own lives.

  7. @Pati LS I suppose we should all be glad the Bible doesn’t ever contradict itself! I won’t post every passage from the Bible that encourages killing people (and sorceresses, apparently), but rest assured, there are plenty. Again, the Bible is a pretty questionable source of morality, particularly if you’re going to use it to impose your beliefs upon others. You can believe anything you want, but don’t use your religion to judge and stop others from doing what they feel is the right decision for them, especially since it impacts you in no way whatsoever.

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  9. @Adelina The answers are simple. In Decalougue, the 7 commandments says “Don’t kill”. It reffers not only to not killing other people but also yourself. Even smoking can be considered as a sin, because it affects your health in a bad way. Moreover most christians look at their bodies as a temple of God – and tample should be cherished not destroyed. I hope I clear up your mind a little bit.

  10. I have a question for everyone who says she doesn’t have the right to end her life because “it is in God’s hands when we die”: Do you differentiate between active and passive suicide? If it’s God’s plan for someone to get cancer, isn’t actively pursuing treatment to prolong life actually going against that plan? Death is a part of life, so it’s always a part of “The Plan.” And by refusing treatment (passive suicide), everything is actually going according to plan. Why do we think it’s acceptable to prolong our lives, yet consider it abomination to accept and actively embrace death? If we were to truly follow the reasoning of “it’s God’s plan,” pursuing treatment should actually be frowned upon just as much, if not more than suicide. I find it hypocritical to embrace medicine and the delaying of death while condemning the choice to expedite inevitable death. If we truly consider life as a gift from God and stick to that belief 100%, we should actually believe that we have no right to intervene in any form (and we would all also be against war, the death penalty, police brutality, the violence of poverty, etc). As usual, people are just committing to 50% of the actual reasoning based on their murky ideas of morality.

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  12. After a long year of gap, Today I cried.

  13. Cancer is a bitch, plain and simple. People fight it and live; people fight it and die. However there is no difference in how well or hard they fought. Just because you live doesn’t mean it wasn’t a struggle. Also on that note who says you have to have pain or face pain in order to die with “dignity”. People die from many reasons but pain is not a prerequisite to define how you died, how you lived, or whether you were brave or not. I think it’s funny how everyone seems to have an opinion on what they would do or what she is doing, in the end it’s all judgement. i applaud her for making her OWN choice, as it should be everyone’s choice. We don’t “owe” anyone our life, no matter how painful it may be for them. And for those that said they don’t agree, isn’t that the point, that you own choices for your, as she should be able to make hers?

  14. I can’t help but have mixed feelings about this. My mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma 2 years ago and she is still alive. She was given months to live, and she has never once thought about giving up. She’s 67 years old–she’s lived a long and wonderful life, but whatever time she has left, she feels it’s worth fighting for! Statistics aren’t always right, and my mom and so many others out there that are battling GBM are living proof. She’s missing out on the “what if”. She’s missing out on making a difference and participating in clinical trials that could help make advances for those down the line that are diagnosed with this horrible cancer. I support that she has exercised her right to choose, but I feel that God is in charge of when we go, we shouldn’t have that kind of power. God bless her over the next few weeks.

  15. So heartbreaking and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Jo, I can’t help but think about your brother in law. I hope he is doing well. I think about him from time to time. The article he wrote will just pop into my head for no real reason.

  17. That’s absolutely heartbreaking. I don’t know how she has the strength to promote the death for dignity cause, but power to her!

  18. Oh my heart just aches here. And I read an excerpt from Atul Gawande the other day, he makes so much sense and I hope more people can benefit from his insights.

  19. Very, very moving. There are no words.

  20. “It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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  22. I am also moved by this story, and I support the right to choose to end suffering, but please, think about the language you use when you talk about those who make the other choice. Life “tied to an IV pole” or a life of suffering may be meaningful and even beautiful, and is a valid choice, too. Those who suffer and die slowly may also be “dying with dignity,” even if their bodies require constant care. Dignity is more than just being able to care for your own body and exists for those who live without that ability.

    A relative died of a different kind of brain cancer a few years ago. She had a young daughter, and chose to continue treatment as long as possible. Although she could only watch her from a bed during the last few weeks of her life, those were meaningful last hours for her, watching the last bit of her daughter’s life she would get to see. She suffered greatly and lost all of her body’s and mind’s abilities one by one, but to say that she didn’t die with dignity is untrue and unfair.

  23. This is a powerful example of a woman being her own advocate. It is also an extreme example. Dying with dignity does not necessarily mean ingesting a lethal substance but perhaps choosing NOT to pursue aggressive treatment of untreatable disease. The basic tenet of medicine is to “do no harm” that often times gets pushed to the wayside to indulge a patient’s denial of a terminal condition. This results in a deluge of tests, medications and procedures that in the end do not prolong quality life. More education needs to be provided, as it was in Brittany’s case on how a disease will progress and what to expect. Bravo to Brittany’s nurses and doctors for being realistic and supporting her goals. Another comment mentioned “Letting Go,” another piece of Atul Gawande which is excellent-highly recommend.

  24. Great blog and blog post.

    People should have a right to medicine induced anesthesia and assisted suicide (just like we do when our pets are sick and have to be put down instead of having to resort to guns, rope or other means if they are terminally ill.

  25. Sorry, but I don’t see anything brave in having euthanasia. Facing the illnes would be brave. Choosing death in pain would be brave. This is just running away. We received our lives, it’s a a gift and it’s against human nature to push it away. Hope she’ll change her mind.

  26. I learned something today. Over 10 years ago, a dear friend was dying of lung cancer and got a prescription here in Oregon. It was a liquid, not a pill. (As it turns out, he didn’t use it). At that time we thought that was the only form available for terminal patients to use so I’m glad to hear there are other options like a pill.

    I’m glad for the Oregon law. It gives people some options when their lives are spinning out of control. So sorry about this young lady’s plight.

  27. A friend of mine is suffering from this exact type of brain cancer. She had extensive surgery and radiation to shrink the tumor size. It’s been a few years since but recently she was given the same diagnosis (6 months to a year). We’ve had a few benefits and the kindness of folks from our hometown has been overwhelming. The money we raised will keep Lexie comfortable financially and allow her to travel or cross off items from her bucket list. I know she’s also brought in hospice which I believe will help her and her family cope with being terminal. I’m not sure if she’s come to terms with dying as much as this gal, she has been so positive and strong but I’m sure she’s not stupid. Doctors have been very honest with her. I don’t know what I would do if I was faced in this situation, but one thing I have learned is that it’s the patient’s choice. It is selfish to tell another person that they have to suffer or be in pain because you’re afraid of death and dying.

  28. My father is dying from a very similar brain tumour. He is essentially incapable of speech (he might speak a word or two a day), he is generally unable to feed himself, because of a loss of motor skills, and he cannot stand up, shower, or go to the bathroom without someone helping him. He is losing the ability to focus sufficiently to enjoy conversation, reading or watching TV. We understand that he could live for another year or so, and each week or month his condition will worsen, with him losing control of all of his bodily functions, and becoming unable to do anything or say anything. It is absolutely miserable for him in this condition- he is suffering, he is dependent on others, and there is no hope of a cure. (It’s nice to hope for one, but he’s been through multiple rounds of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, other experimental drugs, you name it. He has great medical care, great doctors, but there is no cure. He’s been brave for years, and suffered through all of the treatments, and I cannot stomach those who think that voluntary euthanasia would in any way be cowardly.)

    Euthanasia is not legal where we live, and I don’t know what he would have chosen if it was. But I strongly believe that I would choose what Brittany has chosen, if I was faced with a similar diagnosis.

    I would not wish this illness on anyone, it is awful beyond what I could ever have imagined.

  29. You cannot deny her strength. She is a beautiful soul, created and loved deeply by God. I watched my once healthy 2-year-old, slowly be “uncreated” as Batten Disease took over. God was ever so near and in his last breath, swept my Zekey up, into His loving, gentle arms.
    I pray that Brittany finds that peace in Him, too. That she finds out just how loved she is by Yahweh, God.
    Here is a post I appreciated, having watched suffering, somehow beautiful because of God’s nearness and the hope in Jesus….

  30. If someone’s interested in watching a movie on this idea, “A Sea Inside” deals with this.
    As for me, I am not sure I agree with this, but I am also positive I wouldn’t want to suffer or make those around me suffer by seeing me suffer.

  31. I don’t understand people who disagree with physician assisted suicide because of the God argument (we should let God decide our fate and we should not play God). What people don’t understand is that choices are made in medicine all the time. We decide to prolong or withdraw treatment. We decide to take off oxygen and remove intravenous lines and to initiate comfort measures for a dying patient, and is that essentially playing God? Taking the final step, and allowing people dignity and choice when it comes to death is humane.

    Medicine is supposed to do no harm, but sometimes taking every action possible to prolong a person’s life is doing harm. Sometimes allowing someone to suffer while dying is doing harm. I am a nurse, and I have seen several patients actively die over the course of several days, and it’s awful. We wouldn’t sit around watching our beloved pet struggle moan in pain or struggle to breathe as their lungs fill up with fluid which commonly occurs before death. Yet we allow this for our family and ourselves. Maybe if more people knew what the dying process was like, they’d feel differently.

  32. Having been an RN for 14 years and having had a few family members die of cancer, I’m firmly in the pro camp, not that it matters a bit. I also come from a catholic family, all of whom, including those who’ve died, would not choose to end their life. Their choice, as it is Brittany’s.

    What matters is how comforting it must be for this young woman that she can make her own informed choice, and ultimately have some control over this terrible disease.

    My thoughts go out to the people here who’ve shared their personal experiences.

  33. This woman’s story is heartbreaking and tragic, for sure. But I take issue with the term “death with dignity.” Dignity is an innate human right. It isn’t earned; it just is. We are born with it. Human life…in all circumstances…has dignity. One need not be able to walk or talk, control their bladder or bowels, or even think to have dignity. To imply that the weak or imperfect: those whose body or minds are not fully whole and functioning, whether through birth, injury, aging, or disease, don’t have dignity is both flawed and dangerous.

  34. It was so hard to read this post so I can’t bring myself to watch the video. I’m actually one of those people who have to actively avoid thinking about death. I’m so happy for this woman that she is able to live and die on her own terms but I’m heartbroken for her family. I lost my little sister ten years ago (suicide) and, I’m in no way trying to minimize this woman’s pain, but it’s so hard to be the one who lives. To not become so drowned in loss that you forget you’re alive and should embrace your life. It took me some time to realize this. I hope her family knows that they’re not alone in their pain and can take small comfort in that. All I can say is be kind to everyone you meet today. You have no idea what their story is.

  35. While I find the video to be very moving, I am going to have to respectfully disagree with the choice that Brittany is making.

    I can only hope that she and her family find peace.

  36. As the daughter of a woman who has given countless years as a nurse and more importantly, a hospice nurse, I know the trouble, heartache and pain these nurses endure to provide the dying with a calm before passing. It hurts my heart to see this be so one sided.

  37. This is such a moving and beautiful article and video. Being able to chose when and how you die is very sensitive topic. I sending Brittany and her family all my prayers.

  38. Hi Joanna (and Caroline now!). I love your blog, the topics, photos, your kiddos. :) Thanks for writing.

    This post went straight through my heart. My grandfather just, just passed away a night ago. He was in ICU, and on life support and my family made the decision to take him off, surrounded by so many loved ones. I would not have had it any other way!! At 26, I am not at all afraid of talking about death. When I was, I think, 22 (?) I read Tuesdays With Morrie, which changed my life and made me fine with death. It felt very natural, and comforting to hold my grandfather’s arm as he took his last breaths…thank you for this post.

  39. This is absolutely heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing and helping to raise awareness. I previously knew nothing about dying with dignity legislation, and it is so important!

  40. I was very surprised to look at the blog tonight and see you post this! Not in a bad or good way, it just was something I’ve been avoiding reading about/watching online all week. I chose to watch the video though, and found it to be incredibly moving. The right to die with dignity is an option that everyone should be able to choose. I took a psychology of death and dying class in college and this was one of the topics we discussed regularly. Many countries outside the US offer this, to adults as well as children. Brittany seems incredibly self-assured, smart and of course, brave. If she feels it is the right decision, then it is. Thank you for sharing this Joanna otherwise I would have continued to avoid it and the topic altogether. Her words about doing what you love every day are still echoing in my mind.

  41. emily, that is a beautiful and true point. and thank you to all the lovely comments who shared their heartfelt stories. i just wish we could all be in a room together. xo

  42. This is unbelievably moving. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 months ago. I’m so lucky that my doctors are going for a cure, I’m stage 2B but it will be a long road. Before being diagnosed I feared that I was going to die from this disease and imagined what it would be like. I’m comforted to know that she is going to go on her terms but sad that we are losing someone with such a beautiful spirit. Cancer sucks. It just sucks.

  43. Oh Jo, my father is declining with a glioblastoma multiforme that he was diagnosed with in march. It is so hard to watch him decline so quickly after having such a strong summer after one surgery and radiation and chemo treatments. There is no cure for this disease and I believe people should have the right to choose when enough is ebough. Dr. Kevorkian had the right idea. Choose humanity. Life is quality vs. Quantity. Way to go Oregon and our thoughts and prayers are with Brittany as we know so much about her battle through my dad. I am so glad this is being brought to the surface. We make decisions our whole lives, we should also have the choice to decide when enough is enough. It is never giving up. Just wanting a better chance.

  44. My mom died from a glioblastoma multiforme, but let me tell you, she defied all the odds, all the negative information we received about how her death would be, all the hopelessness. They gave her 3 months to live and she lived over 3.5 years and probably would have lived longer, had she stayed on the chemo, which was incredibly tolerable. She was able to work again, drive again, do dishes and housework, travel and had an incredible quality of life. Her death was not a loss of dignity, but a beautiful transition from this world to the next. True, there were a few tough weeks, but overall, it was not at all in line with how I read and heard it would be. I hope that people can realize that every experience is different and we are not to be put in a box. God deals with each one of us in His own way and own time. That being said, I completely support someone being able to say it’s time if they feel that they’ve suffered enough or are ready to go and I believe they should be kept comfortable and helped along quickly if the suffering/lingering is just too bad. This woman is brave. I am terrified of death (probably because I have no control over it) and I admire someone so bravely accepting and facing their own.

  45. I noticed another commenter mentioned the book Me Before You. I just finished reading this fictional book, dealing with the same topic of choosing to end your life with dignity. I also cried through the whole book, but I am still rocked by the main character’s ultimate choice. I can’t say what I would do in this situation, but I know I’d have to have a much deeper hope than what is on this earth to choose to end my life. I pray that this young woman has a comforting peace as she faces something I couldn’t imagine.

  46. I’ve thought a lot about this article over the past week. On the most basic of human levels, I can totally understand the desire to “die with dignity” and pick the time and place etc. I also find that so many people in our country (America) avoid suffering at all costs. Obviously, no one wants to suffer but I have often found that beauty, growth, and incredible revelation often happens amidst suffering. I think we (myself included) too often try and control as much as we can — even down to the day and time we die in order to avoid things we deem unlovely and tragic. I can not move past the fact that in choosing to avoid suffering at all costs, we often miss the incredible beauty that comes from suffering and dieing well in the face of pain.
    I certainly have no judgement to case here as I would definitely be tempted to pull the plug if I were in incredible pain but I would hope that a small voice inside of me would remind me… “but what about all the beauty that comes from brokenness”.

    THanks for sharing a thought provoking story.

  47. Quite a beautiful story and message. There isn’t much for me to say…but I couldn’t not comment either.

    My prayers go out to Brittany and her family. xo

  48. My father passed away of an equally debilitating form of cancer, where by the end, the cancer had spread to his brain/spine/lungs, and he was a shadow of his former self. It was, obviously, incredibly hard to see him that way. However, at the time I was a sophomore in college taking an Ethics course in the Philosophy department, and the class got onto the debate of euthanasia about when my dad had maybe one month left. I remember feeling completely sick to my stomach hearing students so blithely exclaim that of COURSE they would opt for euthanasia in those circumstances! I would never have wanted to see my father die a day sooner than he had to, even when the end was as horrible as it was; and I don’t think he would have wanted to go a day earlier. It’s such a personal decision, and I can’t imagine how this woman must feel weighing her options — I just know, from the perspective of a loved one, I’m so glad I got as many possible days with my dad as I did – even when I had said good-bye to him months before he really passed. But at the end of the day – we should all have the right to choose, and that’s what matters most.

  49. My heart aches for Brittany, however, I don’t believe we should be calling it “death with dignity.” It implies that those who fight cancer courageously aren’t dignified.

  50. As someone who lost a very good friend to this same cancer and as someone who is going through cancer treatment myself for late stage cancer I don’t take this idea lightly. I am not commenting on what this woman should or should not do. I am only commenting on how I feel considering my personal situation this year. I guess what bothers me is the wording that everyone uses when addressing dying with dignity. I feel there’s no such thing. Our bodies break down, sometimes when we’re 90, sometimes before we’re even born, but it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it. Again, it is a very personal decision and I am not sure how I am going to feel when the time comes. I just think either way it is not normal to die. It may be common, but not the way it was meant to be.

  51. My best friend died of a similarly aggressive brain tumor at the age of 28, 3 years ago. She was fortunate to pass with her family at her side. At the end of her days she was in hospice (in her home) and in her last 2 weeks she lost the ability to speak, walk, and swallow – it was the inability to ingest food or water that ultimately took her. Brittany’s story is heartbreaking, but also inspiring that she has to courage to choose her own end while knowing her fate is already sealed. I wish my friend had had that choice, if she had wanted it.

  52. Hi Joanna. Thank you for writing about this.
    Just to say I am thinking of your family, in particular your sister and Paul her husband. (( ))

  53. I can only suggest that in dealings with doctors we all learn to ask the doctor, “if you were me,what would you do.”

    Doctors die better… But we are not good at recommending doing less. As a palliative care doc myself, I even struggle with this.

    A really lovely post and I can’t wait to read dr. guwandes new book… I second that his New Yorker “letting go” article is very helpful when introducing palliative care and I love for initiating the conversation of advance directives.

  54. I read the story here and elsewhere.. there’s no way I can watch the video.. but i agree – there needs to be thought and options for people. There just does!

  55. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this. I witnessed my beloved aunt die of cancer and since I’ve been a supporter of right-to-die legislation. Autonomy at the end of life is important and every person should be able to say “when”.

  56. What an incredibly brave woman. I hope more states change their laws so people can die with dignity.

    How is your brother-in-law doing?

  57. Thank you-so much for this. I’m praying for this beautiful woman and her family. After watching my uncle die and the utter lack of dignity he had this makes me feel a bit better. Just to choose as difficult as it must be, but to have the freedom of choice is so important and so much what I believe we fight for when we say freedom. Thank you Jo for this post. Thank you so much.

  58. Wow, what an incredibly brave person Brittany is. I can’t imagine how I’d react if I were given the same news. It makes so much of what I worry about seem so insignificant. My hope for her is that her prognosis is incorrect and that come Nov 1st she won’t need to follow her itinerary for the day. But it’s wonderful to know that when that day does come she has the right to die the way she chooses. Thank you for sharing her story!

    But Joanna, I can’t help but think of your brother-in-law Paul and his diagnosis and how close to home this story but be to you and your family. I’m sending you (and Paul and your sister) an extra special hug. ((hug!))

  59. Wow, I’ve just watched the video. Thank you for posting it, Jo. What a brave woman, a brave family so full of love and adventure. It moves me too as I lost my uncle just last month to the same type of brain cancer that Brittany has. He was a fantastic, gentle and funny man, and braved an experimental cancer treatment trial to not only try to live a little longer but to help others too. He was the first person in Europe to have the treatment, and his story touched a lot of people. How strong and amazing these people are. Seize the day!!! Thanks Jo.

  60. Joanna: While this incredibly touching and sad story has been making the rounds over the past day or so, I want to thank you for bringing Atul Gawande’s relevant thoughts into the discussion. I found it to expand the conversation in a really helpful and thought-provoking way. Hugs and kisses to all our loved ones out there today.

  61. This video made me weep – prayers and thoughts for Brittany and her family. I also second the mention of The Conversation Project. I’ve worked with the project professionally through our hospice here in Denver and it is a fantastic way to approach the subject.

  62. I am so incredibly moved… and inspired to live a better, more meaningful life. Reading and watching this was truly a life changing moment for me.
    Thank you for posting this Joanna. Though I can ,and have, counted on you to post the most amazing, real content- this is the most touching blog post i’ve ever read.

  63. A very moving story. I am so glad death with dignity laws exist and hope her advocacy brings more attention to this topic.

    My daughter had cancer. It was so tough to weigh the “how long to treat” question and challenging because my husband and I had differing opinions. Ultimately we didn’t have much of a choice because she declined quite rapidly at the end but I am so thankful she passed cuddled with us in our bed versus at a hospital attached to a machine.i wonder if our culture values hospice care the same way others do.

  64. Thoughts to you Joanna, and your sister and brother in law. I heard them mention his NYT essay on NPR the other day. “I can’t go on… I’ll go on.” May he beat the odds and go on and on and on for a long time yet!

  65. “How to Die in Oregon” is an amazing documentary about the “Death with Dignity” act. An eye-opening, heart wrenching story. It is a must watch on Netflix.

  66. Hi, this is a very moving story, my thoughts are with this family.

    I do feel that defining “dying with dignity” as equals to assisted death isn’t very accurate.

    People can die with dignity in many ways, not just by assisted death.

    I just want to put that out there to add to this discussion.

  67. thank you for sharing this story ….my prayers go out to Brittany and her family….

  68. this makes me think of your brother in law. i know it’s none of my business, but i hope he’s ok.

  69. I read about this a few days ago, and it has been weighing heavily on my mind ever since. It probably will until at least Nov. 1. I actually kind of hope I’m able to continue to hold onto a little of the feeling – it’s really easy to make the right decisions and focus on what your priorities are that way. The clock is ticking on all of us and we should live our lives fully and with intention, regardless of how much time we’re fortunate enough to have.

  70. I watched this a couple of days ago, and having watched my father pass away from stage four cancer within the year that he was diagnosed with cancer, I can completely understand the concept of dying with dignity. As hard as it is to fight something like cancer, it is also hard on family and friends watching someone go through the pain of cancer. There’s also the fact that by dying with dignity, you can die without going through all the pain. I believe more in the quality of life rather than the quantity(time of life) just because of watching someone going through the pain.

    On another note, has anyone seen The Big C? I watched that series, and towards the end of the series, I believed that the character played by Laura Linney chose to die through dying of dignity (or least to me it was implied), but at the same time she did do everything that she wanted to do before she chose to die.

  71. I normally don’t return to comment after my first comment, but I was interested in others’ thoughts. To Vanessa — I believe what you say is true, there is value in human life, and I respect your spiritual beliefs and how they inform your thoughts. I think this movement speaks to that intrinsic value as well, actually. But I also think it’s important to remember that the Death with Dignity movement is not about telling everyone with terminal illness or severe health problems to die in a certain way. It is about choosing the manner in which we die when faced with a dying body, and that ability to choose a peaceful death rather than a long and painful one, that choice is the difference. That choice provides some the opportunity to engage in their life’s value before it is time to, as Tyler beautifully said above, “float away.”

  72. As a pediatric oncologist, I say simply: bravo. Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with her decision is irrelevant. She is clearly an intelligent and thoughtful adult and this is HER life.

    I wish Brittany and her loved ones only peace – same as I wish for any patient and family staring into the face of a terrible disease.

  73. What an incredible woman. So brave and courageous. I think it’s wonderful that she’s making a choice and she is taking control of her own mortality and sharing the experiencing, lovingly, with her family.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  74. I totally agree. I remember hearing a show about end of life procedures/interventions (radiolab maybe?) and all the doctors they interviewed did not want the majority of the interventions. Because unlike the fictional medical tv dramas, they mostly didn’t work and often were painful. So important to think about all this and to be informed.
    Thinking of your brother in law and your family…

  75. I read this story yesterday and I too was so moved. What a brave a beautiful women. For some reason she makes dying feel less scary. I haven’t gone longer than 5 minutes without thinking of her and her journey. Thanks for keeping her story alive. Makes me more aware of how I am spending time on this earth.

  76. My heart is breaking while I realise once again how lucky I am to be healthy.
    In Belgium euthanasia is legal since 2002 and since the beginning of this year it is also possible for minors. Mindblowing for Americans I think, but I am very glad I live in a very open minded country.
    My thoughts go out to Brittany and her family and also to your family Joanna.
    Thank you for sharing.

  77. My mom had the same diagnosis as this girl – Stage 4 Glioblastoma. I wish, with all my heart, we had chosen the option this girl did. I wish we had even known that it was an option. I wish we had forgone the poisonous treatments that left my strong, beautiful mother a sad, confused, withered old lady. I wish instead she had opted to travel with her boyfriend and drink margaritas, and then take the pill and float away. Her illness, treatment and death were so traumatic for my family. When someone receives a diagnosis like this in this country, you are instantly swept into the American healthcare system, confused and scared. Before you know it, you are hooked to an IV pole wondering if its even what you wanted. An evaluation with a psychologist to help you deal with your emotions and discuss your options should be MANDATORY. Unfortunately most people enter the process with no information or understanding and its very traumatic and sad. I admire this girl greatly and I too, am really happy this is being discussed as people start to reject our frightening healthcare system in favor of choice.

  78. Like Jenna this has been weighing a lot on me as I am 28 yrs old and recently married as well. Also the thought of death scares the hell out of me. I don’t really know how to feel about this. I feel torn…I think it’s incredibly brave that she made a conscious decision and rational decision when to end her life. but like most of the people that have left comments it’s the “what ifs…” that scare me that most. Like I totally understand that the battle is long hard (i watched my aunt fight breast cancer live 10 extra years to lose it when they found that cancer cells were on her bones) and might not be worth it…but what if…what if she can happen to live another 2, 5, 10 years at full capacity. I feel like the what ifs is what would keep going. With that being said I think if you are mentally capable and facing terminal illness I believe you should be able to choose how and when you want to die. Although I think these stories should be separated from those of suicide.


  79. @ronnijupson, thank you so much for asking about my sister and her husband. you are so sweet to think of them. for their privacy online, i probably won’t say much more, but thank you so much for asking. xoxo

  80. When I was a teenager, roughly 10 years ago, I got a job at a retirement home for a few weeks during my summer break. On the floor where I worked, were plenty of people that where really ill, but there is in particular one man that comes to mind when I saw this post. I am not entirely sure what was medically wrong with him, other than what I could see for myself. He had a wound on the side of his stomach that had gotten infected and that had led to his flesh rotting away, while the wound just grew bigger and bigger into a big gaping hole. Basically, it was eating him alive. I can’t even imagine the pain he must have been in. He also had other conditions that left him without the ability to move or speak, but you could really see the suffering in his eyes. Even his wife and children would say that they knew that if he could, he would have killed himself by now. But by law, there is nothing anyone can do to put him out of his misery. The nurses and doctors keep on keeping him alive until there’s nothing more they can do, and I remember them telling me as well that it breaks their heart every time they have to bring him back to life and back to more suffering.
    I think it’s sad that an animal in a similar state would be put to sleep, because keeping it alive would be considered too cruel of a thing to do. While with humans we keep forcing them to be alive until their bodies eventually can’t take it anymore.
    I really hope that will change someday. Quality of life should be more important than the amount of years you live.

  81. The German author Wolfgang Herrndorf also had Glioblastoma and he wrote a public diary about his time with the disease and trying to end his life in dignity. His blog
    was later published as a book and was very successful, I am sure it will be translated to other languages.

    He ended up shooting himself because here in Germany there is no legal way of assisted suicide.

    The book is so moving and really worth reading!

  82. I will be honest, like Irene, and say that I am not comfortable with the idea of making that choice – mainly because of my faith and my beliefs, but also because that anticipation in the interim would be so unhealthy for me.

    However, I do wholeheartedly support the movement toward pulling the shroud, as it were, from death. It’s not something to fear, just a part of life. I also can’t judge a person for making such a decision because it is their life, their body, their beliefs – not mine.

  83. There’s a beautiful book out called “Me Before You” that deals with a persons right to end their own life. I cried through the entire thing. Sending love and light to Brittany and her family.

  84. My heart really hurts for her and for the pain she and her family are in, but I really don’t agree with the prevailing narrative that choosing to end your own life is “brave” and that the only antidote to suffering is death. She did not choose cancer, but she is choosing a response to it which is utterly contrary to the dignity of the human person and the resiliency of the human spirit. And ultimately, she is choosing a far more painful path that her husband and family will have to walk in the months and years to come.

    It’s also disrespectful to the millions and millions of men, women and children who battle cancer and lose, but who go down swinging and who give their families the gift of as many days with them as they’ve been given.

    This is a dangerous, slippery slope that conflates “quality of life” with the fundamental reality that no human being has the right to end a life, not even their own.

  85. I hope her mom goes to Machu Pichu and says hi to her, when she feels ready to. That is such a beautiful thought.

  86. What a beautiful and brave soul she is. I wish her Godspeed on this sad journey, and my deepest sympathies are with her broken-hearted family. I am reminded of the words a dear friend wrote to me after her beloved husband (and father of their 3 young children) passed away peacefully in his bed, surrounded by all of his family, with his favorite concerto playing softly in the background: “We sent him off in an envelope of love.” That is the way Brittany will go, and for her sake (and her family’s) I’m glad that she lives in a place where she will be allowed to die with dignity, and without pain. Thanks for sharing this.

  87. I’m impressed that you’re bringing this to the blog, Joanna. I think this is a very important and tough issue for people to be talking about and it tells me that as a culture, we are moving towards healthier perspectives on death and dying. Brittany is incredibly brave and I think her whole process has been so thoughtful and sets a good example for others who are contemplating ending their life on their own terms.

  88. As I was watching the interview with that sweet mama, I was struck with the thought, “What if this was me? What would I want for my own child?” When my children were first born, I probably would have said, “I want my child to live a long life.” Recently that has moved on to, “I want my child to live a fulfilling life.” But something I hear in this mama’s words is, “I want my child to be allowed to be who she is.”

    I like all three answers for my children. I want all three.

    Peace and courage to this family.

  89. My mother died of cancer in 2006, and it wasn’t an easy process or period of time. But we are all incredibly proud that we were able to give her the death she wanted — at home, in her own bed, with her family around her. It was incredibly beautiful and I will never forget those moments. But it was very, very hard to get to the point where we could talk about her dying because that conversation is so uncomfortable in medicine and in our culture. Death is part of life – we can’t pretend it isn’t there.

    I don’t know what the last word is, either, except that speaking gently and openly and lovingly and honestly is the only way to a death that corresponds to the values we live by.

  90. What a brave, composed, beautiful woman.

  91. Oh wow – this was so tough to watch – thank you (and Olivia’s comment really touched me about thinking about “lasts”.) Trying not to cry at work

  92. Anyone, depressed with no hope or terminally ill or content with life and wants to end on a high note, anyone should have the right to decide when they want to leave this earth. The stigma attached to dying is such a shame. It’s really a gift that this beautiful woman has decided to share her story with the world. It’s a celebration of the positivity of life and living it fully while we are here without messing around and wasting our days not appreciating how beautiful this world is. As someone who lost my mother when I was very young, I learned early on to fear death. But as I grew, that dissipated when I embraced the beauty of life instead of the fear of death. Life shifts in that moment, as does the experience. The length of life doesn’t matter. My mother left a legacy for her six children and husband and all who adored her… love life while you are here, fully, with great love and appreciation. I support Brittany’s choice to choose with this astounding dignity. Thank you for sharing, Joanna.

  93. There are a bunch of amazing and moving documentaries about this subject.

    I highly recommend:

    How to Die in Oregon
    Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die
    The Suicide Tourist
    The Suicide Plan

    Each one shows a very intimate portrait of real people facing life’s hardest questions.


  94. I think the last line of your post is one my very favorites you’ve ever posted–sometimes your blog can feel a bit editorial and magazine-y, a bit of a front (which is obviously still ok, since you’re managing to do quite well! ;) ) But it was very refreshing to get a sense of YOU on the other end, that you were sitting on the other end, in the same boat as the rest of us.

    Also thanks for that excerpt from the article/book: it was phrased in an interesting manner: medicine running COUNTER to the interests of the human spirit. Appropriate.

  95. There are a bunch of amazing and moving documentaries about this subject.

    I highly recommend:

    How to Die in Oregon
    Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die
    The Suicide Tourist
    The Suicide Plan

    Each one shows a very intimate portrait of real people facing life’s hardest questions.


  96. I find it incredibly sad that we have lost a sense for the dignity of life, even in the pain of suffering. I think of the beautiful memoir, The Diving and the Butterfly, where the main character suffers a stroke and is left with locked-in-syndrome and can only communicate with the blinking of his eyes. Human life has intrinsic value, even as our bodies break down. As a Christian, I can only approach suffering through the example of Christ, who accepted his death, redeemed suffering, and restored life.

  97. Oh, man. Does ‘moved’ mean bawling? If so then I’m also very ‘moved’. I received a tough diagnosis of my own yesterday- not terminal, but serious enough to leave me feeling small and fragile. Today I’m grieving for my concept of myself as a healthy person. But Brittany’s example of strength, serenity and gratitude will light my way forward.

    I’m comfortable with death in the abstract, but imagining things like my Last sunrise, my Last moments with my daughter, my Last breath…. When we’re always chasing ‘firsts’ (and so segregated from the elderly) we have no preparation for ‘lasts’.

  98. Amazing. Thank you for sharing Brittany’s story and encouraging us to think deeply about our lives, including their inevitable end.

  99. a former colleague of mine recently ended his life after many years of battling illness. as terribly sad as it is, i understand he was in a lot pain and wanted to go in dignity, as dignity had been taken away from him in the uphill battle that was his last few years of his life. a (heartbreaking) note was left behind, asking that he not be judged and that his decision had not been made lightly. my heart aches for his wife and family, but i know he left in peace.

  100. I’m so sorry this young woman’s life is so short. As a veterinarian I discuss death a lot with clients (concerning their pets) quality of life and suffering come up often. We usually aim to euthanize an animal who is terminally ill when we judge that they are suffering (difficult to asses in animals). Most people are happy that there is this option since many have had someone close to them suffer until death. I am happy that there is this option for humans. I wish her a wonderful pain free time on earth and a peaceful passing to the next world.

  101. Yes, this video just broke my heart. What an incredibly brave woman. I’m thinking so much about her and her family.

  102. At 24 I’ve seen a lot (really a lot) of family members and friends fitting cancer… And it is always a very painful process.

    Doctors give their diagnostic and try to guess the patients possibilities… The reality is that most times they are wrong (who could they know exactly, if it case is totally different?). My aunt and my uncle went to hospital for several surgeries with great expectations… Both of them died. My grandma was given few months, she is being without cancer for already 9 years. A friend of mine was given days! and she lived to enjoy another 2 years. (I could give more examples)

    Yes, all of them fight and all of them suffered terribly… But I think the fight is always worth it.

    Been totally honest, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea that you can decide when and how, because what if…?

    However I understand Britanny’s decision. Cancer is a terrible illness and I know the suffering that it brings for those who have to live with it (not just the patient, but his/her family and friends). I hope she finds the peace she is looking for and I wish her all the best.

  103. I moved back to the US just a few months, with my husband who I met in South Africa. We’re in the process of settling down and finding jobs, and I constantly find myself trying to figure out what do I really want to do. This is my chance to take a bit of time to figure it before I get stuck in something…so this video is just a moving reminder of figuring out what is most important in life and doing/going after that. Thanks, Jo. :)
    And although this is definitely a heavy topic, it’s kind of freeing to think that we have the opportunity to live life the way we want. It’s exciting. :)

  104. My dad died. He had a heart attack. I received a phone call late at night, I was just getting in the car about to go home from a friend’s wedding. I didn’t believe it. How could he be dead? He was active, fit, strong. People don’t just die. Except they do. I thought he had “died” and would be ok once the doctors worked on him. They would give him the shock paddles, they would hook him up to machines, he would magically come back to life, he would be damaged, sure, but ok, right? No. He was dead. That was it. The end. Sometimes I wish I could have been there. That maybe I could have done something. Maybe if I had shouted his name, he would have heard me and come back. Maybe if I pounded his chest, the forces in the universe would have converged in my hands to start his heart beating again, in a way that could happen only through a father daughter bond and couldn’t be achieved through medical training. But then I think what if he had come back, it would have been several minutes already since his brain had no oxygen. What if he was a vegetable and we had to take care of him for decades in a vent farm, watching his body decay as machines inflate and deflate him. But then there would be the hope that he would recover… Which is more terrible? Sometimes I envy for my father, people who had time to say goodbye. People who were sick, who had diagnoses, people who knew. People who had the “luxury” of knowing or deciding. She is brave sure, but in a way, lucky. Or maybe not. Maybe its better when it happens all of a sudden, and nobody has to make any terrible decisions. I guess I just miss my dad.

  105. Goosebumps

  106. I had an extended family member choose to die with dignity in Belgium this past year. I was shocked when I heard the news and was surprised this was an option. I watched the documentary “How to Die in Oregon” and (while I SOBBED) through the entire movie I was so deeply moved by how right I felt this was for people to be able to choose to die with dignity instead of when your body, despite the machines keeping you alive, decides to completely fail you. My grandfather chose to turn off his oxygen and everything keeping himself alive in the hospital because he just was ready to go. His body was failing and he felt no reason to suffer while he waited for his body to completely shut down. I think this is the most humane thing we could do for ourselves.

  107. I read about this young woman a few days ago and was also so moved. I’ve thought about this topic often related more to growing old, especially when doing research on animals. I read a book about how animals’ lives are measured by quality of life, not quantity of life. When they are dying, they die. To provide care that lengthens life but takes away quality of life is to go against their natural order. I think the ability for humans also to pass on peacefully and with dignity is a beautiful and hopeful thing.

  108. I use to work for a doctor who encouraged quality of quantity. Rather it didn’t matter if you lived longer if you were stuck in a state and kept getting worse. He focuses on the quality of life when you’re aging rather than living longer. Everyone is afraid of death it seems. But when you live a fulfilling life, does it matter if you are 82 or 92 when you die? That being said, if you are healthy until the age of 92 of older than that, congrats! But in these kind of circumstances, I would have done the exact same thing. You don’t just sit back and unravel, and watch yourself lose control.

  109. Wonderful post. Pallative Care is such a personal subject. I’ve worked for a Children’s Hospital where this subject is talked about quite a bit. One organization my husband and I donate to annually is The George Mark’s Children’s House which provides family-centered, palliative care to children with terminal illnesses. It was the first of it’s kind in the country, for children, and emphasizes quality of life in a supportive atmosphere. I couldn’t imagine facing this decision, but it’s nice to know we have some systems and groups of people committed to help patients achieve the best quality of life possible at every stage. “Quality of life” means different things to different people and I only hope Brittany and her family are surrounded with love, comfort, and optimal care.

  110. Thank you so much for posting this so incredibly important article and point of view. This resonates with me on so many levels. This is something our family is currently facing — almost exactly. My father was diagnosed with GBM (glioblastoma — same as Britntany) in July. I’m not sure what else to say other than thank you for sharing this; it’s so timely and I’m profoundly moved.

  111. My heart goes out to Brittany. I can’t imagine what she is going through. On the subject of terminal illness and how one can approach it with grace and dignity, I can’t recommend highly enough the blog “Mundane Faithfulness”. Written by Kara Tippetts, a young mother of four who is also dying of cancer, it offers a very different perspective from Brittany on how to think about the really hard things in our lives, including something as difficult as death itself. Even though I am not ill, I have been profoundly encouraged by Kara’s writing.

  112. What a moving post. I was wondering, I remember the article your brother in law wrote…last year? How is he doing?

  113. Gawande’s piece “Letting Go” that ran in the New Yorker a few years ago was one of the best things I’ve read on the culture of life, death, and healthcare in America I’ve ever read. He is doing great work and the right to die should be recognized in every state.

  114. Wow, I can’t fathom knowing the day that I’m going to make an exit — knowing that it’s 5 more weeks, then 4, then 3…man! She’s incredibly brave to be doing it like this, I think.

    May I also say: thank you for bringing back heartfelt, thoughtful content like this! I know you gotta get paid, but this is so, so much better than collections of affiliate links and sponsored posts from Gillette and Target.

  115. truly moving and makes me really think about my life. How much I couldn’t bear to see my daughter go through this. And how much I want to be on this earth.

  116. what a brave woman. It would be also my desire to die in dignity and I hope that our law will understand and change.

  117. what a brave woman. To die with dignity is a human right and nobody should interfere and it is also my desire and I would do the same. I hope our law will understand and change

  118. whew….that is so tough to watch. What a brave young lady.

  119. I was talking about this with my husband last night. And as no surprise given his personality and character, he brought up the ‘what if’ ‘well what if there is a cure that you miss out on?’. I wasn’t sure how to answer that but did emphasize how her decision in how its done and when does seem right and far better than the alternative. Thanks for sharing that and the additional piece.

  120. I’m sobbing right now. Wow. I am touched to the core. “Seize the day” Brittany you are amazing.

  121. What a great message. I think there needs to be a huge shift in our culture–we need to help people be more okay with talking about dying. We need to talk about how we want to die, when the time comes.

    My younger brother passed away a year and a half ago from cancer at age 20. We knew it was coming, so I sat down with him and wrote down all his wishes, what he wanted for his memorial. What to do with his ashes. And he wanted to die at home–not in a hospital. The team at the hospital, Boston Children’s which is such an amazing place, helped make it happen.

    He passed away at home surrounded by my family and it was a gift that it could happen peacefully, on his own terms.

    I can only image how much harder it would have been if I had been too scared to talk to him about it!

    I helped The Conversation Project write their website on the topic, and it includes a Starter Kit which gives you points on what to talk about when you’re discussing end-of-life wishes.

    Not ever any easy discussion, but so vitally important to have. xo

  122. This has been weighing heavily on me all week. At only 26, and recently married myself, I can’t even imagine this diagnosis and what I would do or say or plan. She is brave and beautiful and I wish her family all the peace in the world and that wherever she goes, she is happy and able to fulfill her dreams.