Two things make Maynard different. First, for people such as myself opposed to assisted suicide she is in Caplan's words "the new, self-proclaimed face for the right to die". Caplan goes on to note that Maynard "is partnering with the old warhorse non profit Compassion and Choices". Maynard is the perfect choice for Compassion and Choices to partner with to use Caplan word. I would sourly note she is the perfect person for Compassion and Choices to exploit. Second, Maynard is not different from myself and many others I know who are opposed to assisted suicide. I am what Syracuse University likes to call a public intellectual. I am also an activist in the sense I am on the board of Not Dead Yet, a grass roots organization that vigorously opposes assisted suicide. Thus Maynard and I share one thing in common--we are both activists but on the opposite side of the fence. What makes Maynard different is the slick packaging of her life into a tear jerker like framework. She is unquestionably picture perfect for Compassion and Choices. The emotional manipulation via imagery involved is over the top. It is a dodge, a shell game. Replace fact with emotion. Maynard's role is to incite sympathy without thought.
What could be a worse tragedy? A slender young woman in a gorgeous wedding dress holding hands with her dashing husband. But this is not enough. Yes there is more! We also get to see her with a broad smile sitting in a comfortable chair holding a puppy. Not just any puppy but what looks to be a labrador retriever--the most popular dog in America. The not so subtle leap of logic is that she will never conceive or give birth to a child. This sort of imagery is designed to do one thing: prompt tears over the tragic life and near death of a young woman. One feels sad for her husband and family--and believe me I truly do feel sad for her family. I also feel angry. I am not angry with Maynard. What bothers me is the knee jerk reaction and out pouring of pity. She has complete and total support via superficial outlets such as People magazine and just about every television talk show and news program. Maynard has created the perfect media firestorm. The fact she has not added anything new to the debate for or against assisted suicide does not mater. The viral nature of her story is perfect for contemporary news cycles. Her story over the next few weeks will reach a fever pitch with a perfect ending. Her death. Should she choose not to commit suicide she will slip into oblivion--her proverbial 15 minutes of fame used up. I wish I could say I am surprised by how positive the reaction has been to Maynard. She is ever so brave! Sorry but I do not think so. I think she is blatantly trying to push legislators to pass legislation now. How exactly can you say no to this woman if you are a politician and plan on getting re-elected?
Six million people have seen the below video. The comments have thankfully been disabled.
Aside from being manipulative, I cannot helped but be struck by the privilege involved. Maynard has a wander lust for travel. With a dreadful sound track she said she and her husband were actively trying to conceive a child. She has a wanderlust for travel says her mother. She vacationed in the wine country. She went to Yellowstone with a friend. She went to Denali National Park and met her mother in Juneau. She hopes to go to the Grand Canyon. I am glad Maynard was able to make all these trips and hope she gets to see the Grand Canyon. I wonder though how many other people with terminal illnesses have a comparable experience? I would suggest the majority of people with a terminal illness spend a lot of time on hold arguing about what treatments are or are not covered. I know I sure as heck have had to fight long and hard with insurance companies over my health care.
To reiterate: no new ground is being broken by Maynard. What is different is the timing and imagery that make her story impossible to ignore. Many tears will be shed in an effort to quickly push through assisted suicide legislation. Who wants to have a serious debate about end of life after having their heart broken? We do not need thought we need action and we need action now! Maynard is sure to remain in the news for the rest of October. If she does indeed commit suicide the story will continue for a finite period of time but not interfere with Thanksgiving day football games. Her funeral will no doubt provide equally emotional visuals. I am not thrilled to pen these words--they are hard in the extreme. I am sure she believes the passage of assisted suicide legislation will give her short life meaning. I understand this sort of reasoning. While I am not dying, I get tremendous satisfaction advocating for other people with a disability. Lost in the sea of raw emotion is the simple fact there must be a counter point. For me that counter point is the unwillingness to consider even the most ill or most disabled lives have value. Maynard is unwilling to explore a different, albeit very short, life experience.
In the video above, Maynard's mother stresses how she wants her daughter to be autonomous. Autonomy here is very narrowly defined--a typical life. The typicality requires an average life expectancy, happy marriage, kids, employment, and travel. I have enjoyed many of these wonderful aspects of life. Raising my son and watching him turn into an adult has been and remains the best part of my life. I too have traveled extensively. I have done all this with an atypical body. Never as a young boy could I have imagined life as a paralyzed man. But paralyzed I am. I have led a good life knowing my mere presence was too often unwanted and onerous to others. I have encountered barrier after barrier both physical and social. The world is not designed for people like me. The point is Maynard and others who support assisted suicide cannot imagine the life I have led and enjoyed. The lack of imagination on the part of others when they see me deeply bothers me. I know what most people think: paralysis is bad. Using a wheelchair is a fate worse than death. Terminally ill people that want to die are brave souls! People with a disability that want too die are brave too. I could never live that sort of life. This emotional reasoning is devoid of logic and the ability to adapt is wildly wrong. It is living that counts. All humans are intrinsically valuable--that includes Maynard, myself, people who are terminally ill, elderly and disabled. In short I reject the romance Maynard has with dying. I rail against a society that applauds people like Maynard who want to die and at the same time undermine the ability of those that need social supports to live a good life. What Maynard is turning her back on is the interconnectedness of all people. A good death need not involve a lethal prescription and advocacy for "an old war horse" like Compassion and Choices. A good death can be achieved in a multitude of ways. I can say the same thing about life. There many paths our lives can take and I for one find it sad Maynard has knowingly allowed herself to become the face of the so called right to die. I would rather be known for how I live not the way I died.