Thursday, November 20, 2014


I have been writing up a storm these last couple weeks, but I have most certainly been neglecting my blog. Maybe you will forgive my absence if I explain what I have been up to.

My friend asked me to join the NaNoWriMo challenge with him.

National Novel Writing Month, shortened as NaNoWriMo, is an annual creative writing event. The organization challenges writers to sign up with their online community and pledge to write your 50,000 word novel all in the month of November.

So I have been writing up a storm, but neglecting my online family. I'm sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, I have a sink full of dishes and I am completely out of clean underwear.

But, on day 20 of the challenge, I have logged 44,860 words. The book almost wrote itself, based on a lot of key events in my life. I'll define it as a fictionalized (but mostly true) autobiography. 

I promise I'll let you all know when it is ready for public consumption. And I will certainly post a picture of me wearing my Winner t-shirt. See you on December 1st, when I can finally come up for air.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

God Might Live in Oregon

This last weekend, the beautiful 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took a pill to end her life. A life plagued with constant pain. Constant suffering.  With no cure available to her and a diagnosis of six months to live. she and her family moved to Oregon, where they could seek a doctor that would help Brittany take control of her life. Up to and including the final moments of it.

And people across the country lost their shit.

After only five minutes scanning the comment section of any one of the thousands of news articles about this amazing woman, you will see the same words crop up. Over and over.
  • Dangerous
  • Selfish
  • Playing God
  • End of Hope 

I don’t know how or why it happened, but we as a society decided to dumb down the issues at the center of important arguments. Nothing is as simple as we make it seem. And we do it in order to create a six-second sound bite. A scannable comment. A minute of internet glory. We should all be more careful about throwing around words.

“Assisted suicide is dangerous. It sets a treacherous and slippery precedence.”

People are raising the hue and cry, warning us all that, if assisted suicide was available to everyone, insurance companies would deny us life-saving treatments in order to save the costs of wildly expensive medical care with one dose of fatal medication.

You know what? I’ll grant you this one. This is a valid worry. We all should be concerned about this. But, once again, we are worried about the wrong thing.

I understand that money is the all powerful, unstoppable force that seems to be driving this argument. Why would an insurance company agree to pay thousands and thousands of dollars when they can get you a $300 pill?

But that is not why we should worry. That is not the real danger.

Is assisted suicide much less expensive than treatment of a condition? Most certainly. But why are we shouting about the ethics of assisted suicide and not screaming loudly about the ethics of the extreme cost of healthcare as a whole? It makes no sense to me. None. 

And, please excuse me for being crass, but for $300, any terminal patient without a felony conviction who wishes to end his life can buy a handgun and a bullet.  It’s not the suicide that these naysayers are trying to prevent. It is all about the Benjamins. Could it be possible that the big pharmaceutical companies realized that the ability of a patient to end her life also means ending her costly but ineffective treatments? Just asking.

People are arguing that assisted suicide endangers our society's most vulnerable people: the old, the sick, the infirm. To that, I say... 


It is very true that the elderly and infirm face great dangers and risks. But, are they really more at risk than they were before assisted suicide was an option? Dying is, with all seriousness, the least of their worries. Elder abuse can range from neglect to physical violence. Should part of the discussion about assisted suicide be that may put incapacitated elders at risk to be given medication to die against their wishes? Of course it should. We should be having conversations about all of these issues and fears.

But to believe that a caregiver of an elderly or infirm person would approach a doctor, sign an affidavit indicating that no coercion was employed, fill a prescription, then forcibly administer a fatal dose of medication? This assumes much more humanity than really exists in this world. If a caregiver wanted to end their charge’s life, all they need do is smother them with a pillow. Withhold water. Allow bedsores to fester and infect.

Palliative care will drug a person out so that they can wait out their remaining days stoned, hoping to gently slip away. This we "allow" with no question. But that is looking at too narrow of a view.  What about the lasting cost? What about the care for the families?

If you are worried that insurance companies will nudge people to choose to end their lives rather than spend thousands on treatments, I think that is a valid argument. And one that is so easily defeated. We have the power—as a society, as a country, as human beings—to do better. We need to take care of those people who need our help. The easiest way to do that? Single payer healthcare. You had to know that was coming from me.

Single payer health care is, to borrow a phrase, the alpha and omega.

We should be raising the hue and cry against our healthcare system as a whole. When we all start talking about money and not about quality of life, we—as a society—have gone off the rails.

“Assisted suicide is selfish. It doesn’t consider the feelings of others.”

First, fuck you if you are someone running around saying that. It’s Brittany’s terminal disease. You don’t get a vote. And I guarantee that, for the last year, Brittany has done nothing BUT consider the feelings of others.

UPDATE: I have had a couple people point out some things to me. Suicide can be a very selfish act. It leaves a path of destruction for everyone who loved that person who kills himself. I think we can all agree that Brittany's decision to end her life is not the same as the teenager who leaves a note and grabs his father's gun. But it was fair to point out that subtle distinction. 

And my amazing future doctor friend told me that he just had an interesting discussion on physician assisted suicide during a class. While some were for it, not a single student would feel comfortable prescribing the pill. He pointed out that the toll on the physician often gets overlooked in this debate. Which I thought was a very fair point. Now back to our regularly-scheduled rant.

She could have done this all very quietly. No one needed to know that she asked her doctor for a way to end her quickly-expiring life. But in her final, selfless act, she chose to share her story so that the world could see why the issue of assisted suicide was such an important one.

And I know—I just know—that Brittany Maynard was not ending her life because she was suffering. She ended her life so she could end the suffering of the people that love her.  So her husband didn’t have to sit at her hospital bedside holding the hand of the shell of his former wife. So her parents can begin to mourn instead of grasping for false hope.

And again, let’s be honest. She did it in part so her family wouldn’t have to figure out how to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills for procedures that were only ever meant to delay her inevitable death.

Her entire final chapter was a lesson to all of us. A lesson of strength, beauty, and selflessness.

“Assisted suicide is playing God. We don’t get to decide when to end our life.”

Why are we so afraid to die? Why do we shy away from the business of death?

We would rather keep a terminally ill patient in a medically-induced vegetative state within the confines of an industrialized hospital than let them die in their own bed by their own hand. Why?

The playing God argument frustrates me beyond rational thought. Because people use this argument to bolster an opinion that is otherwise irrational. It is an insane argument.

Are we playing God when the ambulance arrives to take you to the hospital after a car accident? Are we playing God when we build that car that crashed and the airbags that saved our life? Are we playing God when we put on our seatbelt?

We cherry pick when we use the playing God argument, trotting it out when it supports our already-formed opinion.

You want to argue about playing God? The minute we humans get diagnosed with a disease—a disease that, based on this thinking, was deemed appropriate by God himself—we try to treat it. Cure it. Eliminate it. The God play begins. But when shit gets real, when difficult decisions must be made, when the game is already lost because there will be a checkmate in ten moves? Oh no, we can’t possibly make that decision. That would be playing God.

 “Assisted suicide means the end of hope. We all need to continue to hope.”

This is the most insidious one of all.

You have no idea what Brittany was hoping for. None of you. You have no idea what she believed would happen after she died. Maybe her hope was to be reunited in a pain-free afterlife with her husband and her dog.

You have no idea about her hope. Let alone if she was ending them.

I think Brittany had nothing but hope. She hoped that her death would start the discussion about assisted suicide. She hoped to slip peacefully away on her own timeline and under her own power. And she hoped that her loved ones were able to find closure and begin to heal. She hoped that they would find the joy in life and remember the joy in hers.