Two weeks ago, Brittany Maynard’s op-ed, “My right to die with dignity at 29,” ran on CNN.com. In it, she shared about her diagnosis of brain cancer just a year into her marriage. Doctors told her she had only six months to live.
I can’t imagine receiving such a diagnosis at age 29. My heart breaks for this young woman and her family.
After talking with doctors and her family, she declined palliative care. Instead, Brittany and her family moved to Oregon, where a so-called “Death with Dignity Act” allows terminally ill patients to “end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications.”
During the flurry of media interviews that followed, Brittany talked about her plans to take her deadly, doctor-prescribed pills on Nov. 1 – this coming Saturday.
A Different Perspective
Some days before America learned of Brittany Maynard, Focus aired a broadcast with another woman battling terminal cancer. Her name is Kara Tippetts.
Kara, who has been living with her cancer for two years now, has chosen a different route than Brittany. A pastor’s wife and mom to four children ages 5 to 12, Kara decided early on to embrace all the lessons of love and grace God would teach her on her end-of-life journey. In her blog, she shares her cancer story, speaking openly of joy and suffering, grace and brokenness.
The title of her latest post summarizes in a phrase how Kara views her life: “The Beautiful Rough Road.”
Reaching Out in Love
When Brittany’s story became national news, Kara reached out to her through a humbly written, love-filled blog post, “Dear Brittany: Why We Don’t Have to be so Afraid of Dying & Suffering that We Choose Suicide.” In it, Kara told Brittany,
“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… knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying. My heart longs for you to know Him in your dying.”
The wisdom and compassion Kara shares with Brittany is hard-won and God-given. Through her two years with cancer, Kara has learned to identify with the suffering Jesus, a man of sorrows who understands her grieving and pain.
But in that pain, there can be hope. Kara shows us how the process of making end-of-life decisions can be infused with grace and faith. How, even when facing a terminal illness, God can reveal beauty and value in life’s small moments.
Kara is living – and dying – with dignity. She is showing God-given courage as she lives her last days. She has found how to abide in the seeming paradox of beauty and pain, showing the world that “suffering is sacred.”
There is Still Hope for Brittany
Today we woke to the news that Brittany has decided against taking those lethal pills this Saturday. In a video, she says she still plans on taking them:
“I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now… But it will come, because I feel myself getting sicker. It’s happening each week.”
I am thankful that her recent decision provides more time to reconsider her initial decision. More than ever, we should pray that Brittany would seek comfort and strength in God during these difficult days just as Kara has.
Please also pray for others who have been following this story. There are many who might be swayed into believing that ending their own life is the answer. As Kara has shown us, nothing could be further from the truth. We must pray and advocate for God’s truth: Life – from fertilization to natural death – is beautiful, even in the midst of pain. And we must extend enormous amounts of grace and compassion – and be willing to walk with those walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
On today’s broadcast, you can listen to Kara and Jason Tippetts and palliative care expert Dr. Margaret Cottle talk about end-of-life decision-making and how Christians can deal with the pending death of a loved one. Part one of “Navigating End-of-Life Decisions” is available on the radio, online, or via our iPhone and Android apps.
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