Catholic Values Column: Choosing Death Over Life


A 29-year-old Portland, OR woman is planning on euthanizing herself on Nov. 1 due to terminal brain cancer.

Originally from San Francisco, Brittany Maynard moved to Oregon so that she can receive a prescription that will allow end her life in the way that she wants. Oregon is one of five states that allows euthanasia in various circumstances.

“I considered passing away in hospice care,” she Maynard said in a CNN column. “But even with palliative medication, I could develop potentially morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss of virtually any kind.”

Maynard is going beyond choosing death for herself. She is partnering with Compassion & Choices, the largest nonprofit organization “committed to helping everyone have the best death possible.” Brittany’s partnership with Compassion & Choices is in order to “lobby states to adopt legislation that would let you receive a lethal dose of pills if two physicians state that you are terminally ill and neither depressed nor incompetent,” said and NBC NEWS article.

Many groups are hailing this decision by Maynard, such as Compassion & Choices who have already set up “The Brittany Maynard Fund.” This is a fund whose sole purpose is to “expand the death-with-dignity option to all.” However, many others are pleading with Maynard that she would choose life over death.

Kara Tippetts, 36, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is suffering from terminal breast cancer. Recently, she wrote a moving letter to Maynard that has been shared all over various media platforms.

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known,” Tippetts writes. “In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with such tenderness the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.”

This decision by Maynard has reignited the “death with dignity” debate. It is a prime opportunity for faithful Catholics to shape this debate.

Tippets did not end her letter to Maynard without a strong exhortation. “For everyone living knowing death is eminent, that we all will one day face it, this is the question that is most important. Who is this Jesus, and what does He have to do with my dying? Please do not take that pill before you ask yourself that question.”


  1. One of perspective on life and death and suffering is the realization that life is lived in the now. And that to live fully is to embrace the moment whether it be a moment of sorrow or a moment of joy, a moment at work, study, prayer, or play. When we realize that like is full, is abundant, is profoundly human when it embraces all in the context of the Love of God then the question becomes not “how long will I live?” or “will I be happy?” at that point it is no longer a question but an experience too deep for words. It is an embrace of life of nature of humanity and the world around us, the good and the bad, and it is an embrace of God. This is the embrace with which Jesus on the cross embraces each of us in our good moments and bad and our broken fallen world.
    Even if I can’t understand “why?” Can I trust God that he only gives good to each one of us?
    Let’s live in each moment as it comes. Let’s withhold judgment and choose trust, because God is Love and is infinitely trustworthy. Because I am suffering and will likely die a long painful death in a few months is not a reason to not live today. Suffering is not the worst that there is. In fact suffering sensitizes us to who we are, to love and to joy, and to what it means to be human. Suffering can open a hidden world that we might never otherwise stop long enough or go deep enough within ourselves to visit.
    I think that it is important to know that deep within us, God dwells. He walks with us, feeling everything we feel, sharing our joys, our sorrows our pain and our agony. He is our silent, ever present companion. He alone truly knows and feels our pain! Sometimes suffering is so profound that there are no words that could describe it. but the gift hidden within suffering and pain is that God is there, and the spirit who prays within us in cries out with cries too deep for words. know our pain and knows us in our pain.
    Pain therefore can be seen as an encounter, an encounter with ourselves and with God. As anyone who has suffered deeply knows; when the pain is not so great that thinking is impossible, we wrestle within ourselves to find its meaning. we seek to understand. We ask “why?” and we seek to be understood. this very seeking to understand and to find someone who “understands” and can meet us in our pain shows that pain has taken us to a deeper place, a place not all can understand since not all have been there. We have gone deeper in what it means to be human and the experience humanizes us. Those who meet us with compassion when we are in that place of pain share an unparalleled closeness with us. Also God is always in that place deeper than we can imagine and he is so often alone because few are willing to go there. When we embrace the suffering that comes our way, never seeking it out and always seeking health if possible, but embracing it and feeling it when it comes we meet God in the deep recesses of our heart.

  2. I don’t like the choice that Brittany Maynard made almost a week ago to end her own life. My reasons are somewhat different than those expressed above. I don’t want my loved ones to see that I quit. You can save all that “beauty of suffering” stuff for a greeting card or something. I do know what it is to suffer day and night… I know what it is to be lectured by people who say things like “Jesus is with you suffering with you…” And so….? How does your saying things change my life? Healthy people like to talk and say things. People who suffer from chronic pain usually live a life of loneliness because all the people who talk about Jesus on the cross are the first to flee when they have to be with someone who is basically being tortured by the pain process. They assume that they could do this as well or better than I have. One of the problems is that patients are not receiving sufficient palliative care because doctors are trying to cover themselves and are “policing” patients. This tendency has begun to touch cancer patients who previously were given every possible medicine to re leave the pain. I don’t agree with her actions but I also see that patients need to be surrounded with more care and less “advice”. Yes I pray and have offered my suffering for the good of others. Am I a saint or a role model? I don’t think so. I’m trying to survive. I have been abused and neglected by more than one physician and other health care workers. I have also been denied the sacraments of the church on more than one occasion. Because you can’t see what is causing the pain. Then people try to say that I must be mistaken. No, I am not mistaken. I live in a heavily Catholic area/neighborhood. We have asked priests to come and visit me. Still waiting. I am largely a housebound person and people know I am suffering. Crickets. Healthy people who have only suffered a little and have some religion often make this mistake. They are the ones giving to me – And they can’t learn from me. The problem is I will tell them the truth about themselves and not what they think of themselves. Those things are usually different. I live so close to the bone that I can’t stand phonies. Most people have not really been tested… But when they encounter someone who has they jump on them when they are not “perfect”. Yes I have learned a lot… Much of it is sad learning. I’m good though… When I was healthy I visited the sick and infirm and fed the poor… Out of compassion and concern… It’s OK that I have not been “repaid” with compassionate visitors… Because that’s not why I cared and tried to help others… So that I could get “mine”… No because there was no “mine”… Only His… His…

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