‘Every moment we can share together is a gift’: the radical hope of rejecting assisted suicide

In 2014 Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman who had only been married for two years, discovered that she had a very aggressive form of brain cancer. The assisted suicide lobby group Compassion & Choices used her plight to make a powerful video about her wish to die “with dignity”, peacefully and surrounded by her family and friends.

A few weeks after the video was released, Brittany committed suicide in Oregon, where assisted suicide was legal. Within a year, assisted suicide had been legalized in California as well.

It was a brilliant public relations coup. It was impossible to watch that viral video without tears welling up: death was robbing a beautiful, vibrant woman of her youth and everything she loved. How could Brittany possibly be expected to endure indignity, dependence, and pain? Suicide is the answer.

Except that it isn’t -- as this equally compelling video show. about

J.J. Hanson, a young husband and the father of two small boys, only had weeks or days to live. He too had brain cancer. But he and his wife confronted the pain of the illness and of the imminent separation with courage and joy. Yes, joy. After his diagnosis “he spent the next three years helping others realise that every day is a gift.”

In contrast with the mawkish sentiment in the Compassion & Choices video, this glimpse of the last days of J.J., his wife Kristen, and their two sons is a testament to their courage and dedication to each other.

“Try to hold onto hope. For yourself and those around you and people you don’t even know. It could be changing their life. You can’t think about assisted suicide in one situation; you have to step back and think about who it could hurt, because it puts so many people at risk,” Kristen explains. “The joys that we have been able to experience in these three and a half years are too many to count … If we had given up hope, we would have missed out on so much.”

The video, made by the Patients Rights Action Fund, concludes with intensely poignant words from Kristen which convey the capacity of the human spirit to love and not to despair: “Lucas [their infant] requires so much care and love right now; he’s dependent on me for everything. And I do it with joy; why is that so different at the end of life? Every moment we can share together is a gift.”

J.J., who died a few weeks later, on December 30, 2017, nods wordlessly.


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