Some time on November 1 a 29-year-old woman in Oregon will take medication to end her life.
Brittany Maynard’s decision went global over the past couple of weeks. She has an untreatable brain tumour and faces a certain and debilitating death.
Faced with this Maynard decided that “death with dignity was the best option”. She intends to end her life, with legal medical assistance, later this month, shortly after her husband’s birthday.
Now an advocate for America’s leading end-of-life choice organisation the coverage of Maynard’s story has, understandably, precipitated a debate on assisted dying/suicide (take your pick), medical ethics, and the existence and role of a God.
At times the commentary, again understandably, has overshadowed the tragedy of Maynard’s diagnosis, the fact of a life unlived, plans unfulfilled, the cruel cost of mortality.
Reading her story I tried to focus on that, rather than the mechanics of her death.
Two days after I first encountered Brittany Maynard’s case I was sitting in work when, on a radio in the background, I heard the familiar, now fainter, voice of the writer and critic Clive James.
James has, like Maynard, an aggressive cancer which he acknowledges will soon claim his life.
Interviewed two days after his 75th birthday he spoke of his surprise at still being around. “I do have a brand of leukaemia that will come back and get me, but nobody knows when,” he stated.
While Maynard has faced her illness by becoming a public activist James, a long-time public figure in Britain, has turned inwards, writing poems that address his mortality and assess his life.
“I had a new subject, death itself…It’s all very interesting. It’s adventure. And writers are usually a bit short of adventure,” he explained.
Maynard will die with the help of medication, James will not.
When I foresee their passing it’s not the pain or distress, the ethics or the tablets, that come to mind.
Instead it’s the last stanza of one of James’ final poems, Japanese Maple, in which he foresees his death, lying in his room and looking upon his garden, his “slow fading out” complete.
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.