An Open Letter to Brittany Maynard

Oregon welcomes youDear Brittany Maynard,

You don’t know me, and sadly, I don’t know you. I have something to tell you. Why should you care what another voice among millions is saying? Because I have good news.

Like so many, your story has crashed into my world, just as cancer crashed into yours. As expected by your very public decision, you have captured the world’s attention and brought the cause you mistakenly want to “attach your name and legacy to” the forefront.

In interviews you have shared that it is “cancer that is ending your life,” but you are “choosing to end it sooner with a lot less pain and suffering.”

Suffering is a part of life and no one escapes it. Some people, like my father, have suffered for many decades. When he was 30 years old, he was told that he would never walk again and would live every day in incredible pain. Facing that kind of future, I can imagine that he may have seriously considered, on particularly painful days, ending his misery. I am thankful that he did not.

Especially for those closest to him, my father’s courage and willingness to bear his sufferings taught an important lesson: We are stronger than we think we are. Even in the midst of disability, cancer, or terminal illness, there remains something so valuable that when one chooses to prematurely end one’s life, humanity is robbed.

What lesson does suffering teach us?

It helps us understand dignity. Our worth, whether healthy and strong or terminally ill, is priceless. We are not just animals whose value is measured by productivity or contribution. We all have irreplaceable worth because we are human and loved into existence. Each of us is a unique and unrepeatable gift given to humanity. There will never, ever, in all time and history, be another you!

But why is there suffering?

Here is the good news to the question that has haunted humanity forever. In his 1987 Apostolic Address to Americans and Canadians, Pope Saint John Paul II, who knew great personal loss and suffering, said, “Suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a ‘civilization of love.’” For me, this has been the very key that has unlocked the mystery of human suffering, an explanation that makes sense out of the senseless.

Why should you or any other person care what a deceased pope has to say? We care because we recognize truth when we hear it.

Think about what happens when we hear of the plights of fires, tornadoes, senseless shootings, or 911 victims. As human beings we tend to naturally want to respond out of concern and love. It is often those kinds of events that shake us out of our busy-ness, our lethargy, and self-centeredness. Illness, disaster, and human suffering present opportunities to respond to total strangers in love with works of mercy, kindness, and communal and financial help.

I know you are scared; who wouldn’t be? It is okay to be scared to death, but you are not alone and never will be. Ending your life prematurely, is not “dying with dignity.” Rather it is robbing those closest to you, and those you don’t even know, of the rare and beautiful opportunity to pour out love in abundance on you in your time of greatest need. I imagine this is already happening to some degree.

Your mother said it best when she said that it is an “honor to take care of you.” Anyone who truly cares about you will do whatever it takes to be with you, and to spend every single second of your precious natural life by your side. If you end your life, they will only be left wishing they would have had more time with you.

I congratulate you for not ending your life and extending the time with your family. Never feel pressured to go through with your original publicized decision or be pressured to be a pawn on someone else’s game board. Know there is grace in abundance, strength, and fathomless love available to you as you walk this journey. Pray and never stop believing in miracles. They happen all the time.

I beg you instead to consider leaving a legacy of an individual that chose, through the gift of her short life, to allow rivers of love to flow. We desperately need your witness. Thank you for your courage. Already through sharing your story, and your suffering you gave us a glimpse of the beautiful young woman we would have never known without your illness.

Be strong and take heart. You are not alone.

[Editor’s note: Brittany Maynard was a beautiful, vibrant, twenty-nine-year-old newly-wed who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January of this year. She and her family moved from California to Oregon for its “Death with Dignity” law. Brittany announced her plans to end her life with drugs prescribed by her doctor.  She carried out this decision on November 1, just hours after publication of this article.

Her story has gone viral and has become an instrument of the pro-euthanasia group Compassion and Choices. Before she died, Maynard asked her husband and her mother if they would carry on the work she started to get death with dignity passed in every state. ]

Barbara Lishko works full time as a Lay Catholic Marriage Minister. She and her husband Mark, an ordained Deacon, have been married for 35 years and are blessed with five young adult children, whose lives grow and expand through marriage and grandchildren.

Through the inspiration of her family, work in the Catholic Church and wacky life experiences her dream of writing was born. She is the recipient of the Diocese of Phoenix St Terese of Lisieux award. Barbara can be reached at blishko_58@yahoo.com