I loved that scene in the movie “Little Big Man” where Chief Dan George is preparing to depart for the spirit world and tells Dustin Hoffman ‘today is a good day to die”. The Native American concept that you can decide how, when, or where you choose to abandon your life force, has always appealed to me.
In the current healthcare climate we rarely get to make those decisions because they are made for us. Our culture celebrates the denial of death; we encourage interventional medicine that pursues life at all costs; even when the outlook is terminal. Doctors don’t ask patients what their priorities are, what’s important to them, or how they want to spend their last days.
Things are changing though, I just saw a YouTube video that went viral about a 29-year-old woman with an inoperable brain tumor, who has decided when she wants to leave this world. Brittany Maynard’s story is that soon after she got married, on New Year’s Day of 2014, she experienced severe headaches. A thorough workup revealed an aggressive brain cancer, and doctors told her she had less than a year to live.
In her video (http://youtu.be/yPfe3rCcUeQ), Brittany says that she wants to spend the rest of her life traveling around the world. In these last nine months she has traveled to Yellowstone National Park with her husband, been to Alaska with her best friend and mother, and says she is still setting goals for herself. Brittany wants to use this time to raise awareness and advocate for more death with dignity laws. So far only Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico allow terminally ill residents to end their lives using lethal medications prescribed by a doctor and administered by the patients themselves.
Brittany has left her California home and moved to Oregon with her husband in order to qualify for the States, Death With Dignity Act; she has received the drugs to end her life. I applaud Brittany’s efforts in bringing to the forefront this critically important conversation in healthcare. We need to be asking terminal patients what they want, what’s most important to them at this time in their lives; sharing their memories, passing on wisdom and keepsakes, connecting with loved ones, maybe even make some lasting contribution to the world, and then help them achieve those goals. These closing moments are among lifes most important, not only for those dying but for those who are left behind.
Brittany still wants to go to the Grand Canyon, I’d like to take her there myself (maybe introduce her to some Native American ceremonies). In the meantime I’m supporting her at (www.thebrittanyfund.org).
Brittany Maynard may live a short life but she will leave a lasting imprint in the history of our humanity.
My love and blessings go with you Brittany, thank you for the gift of your life, I say this for all my relations. Mi Takuye Oyacin.