When I read that Brittany Maynard, 29, had ended her life legally under Oregon law, I thought about my dad and whether he should have the same right.
For those who don’t know, Maynard had an aggressive form of brain cancer, and doctors told her that her last days would likely be especially painful. So she picked up stakes and moved to Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, because she wanted to die on her terms.
Should North Carolinians like my father have the same right? I don’t know, but I think maybe so.
My father received his cancer diagnosis maybe six weeks ago now; doctors found cancer on his lungs, liver and skeleton. Treatment was essentially useless, they said, so my dad came home to hospice care.
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In that short time, my dad has gone from probably 165 pounds to maybe less than 100. He is almost literally skin and bones, what muscle he has left robbed of any tone or strength. He sleeps with his eyes open because he doesn’t have the strength to close them.
My father is not, it is fair to say, dying with dignity. He pees through a tube, a stranger gives him a bath, his 55-year-old son wipes him after he poops. We take comfort only in the fact that he hasn’t complained of any pain.
It is possible, however, that my father is dying on his terms; that he would not take his own life even if he legally could; that he prefers to be at home with family even if his quality of life has little quality at all.
But others in my father’s position might not want to live like he has lived these past few weeks; early on, he had horrible night sweats, and he would occasionally sit upright in his hospital bed and just say, “Whew,” giving me the impression that cancer was both exhausting and unlike anything he had ever felt.
Should people who don’t want to live like that have the right to end their lives before the suffering becomes too great, before living with dignity becomes impossible?
I think that would be a hard-sell in such a conservative state as North Carolina. But as a country, if we truly believe in individual liberty, shouldn’t that liberty include the right to die on one’s own terms?
The more I watch my father wither away, the more I believe the answer to that question is yes.