I don’t think there’s anyone or anything to prosecute here. In other words this isn’t something for the penal law to deal with, in my opinion.
It seems so sad, and unfair, for a young woman to suffer and die. Far be it from me to second guess Brittany Maynard‘s decision. Her situation was hopeless.
I don’t have a lot of experience with death, and it’s a difficult subject. But what little I have doesn’t seem to lend itself to the term “dignity”. The process by which the body deteriorates and expires doesn’t appear dignified to me, and that’s one of the reasons people dread to die.
Then again, like a lot of things I have little experience with, but which nevertheless strike me as interesting or important, I have indeed devoted considerable thought to death. Maybe that’s all right. Some things are better understood through contemplation than with observation. As far as that goes, I can’t express the thought any better than Soren:
I have disciplined myself and keep myself under discipline, in order that I may be able to execute a sort of nimble dancing in the service of Thought, so far as possible also to the honor of the God, and for my own satisfaction…Do I enjoy any reward? Have I permission, like the priest at the altar, to eat of the sacrifices? . . . That must remain my own affair. My master is good for it, as the bankers say, and good in quite a different sense from theirs. But if anyone were to be so polite as to assume that I have an opinion, and if he were to carry his gallantry to the extreme of adopting this opinion because he believed it to be mine, I should have to be sorry for his politeness, in that it was bestowed upon so unworthy an object, and for his opinion, if he has no other opinion than mine. I stand ready to risk my own life, to play the game of thought with it in all earnest; but another’s life I cannot jeopardize. This service is perhaps the only one I can render to Philosophy, I who have no learning to offer her, “scarcely enough for the course at one drachma, to say nothing of the great course at fifty drachmas” (Cratylus). I have only my life, and the instant a difficulty offers I put it in play. Then the dance goes merrily, for my partner is the thought of Death, and is indeed a nimble dancer; every human being, on the other hand, is too heavy for me. Therefore I pray, per deos obsecro: Let no one invite me, for I will not dance.
No slogan, such as “death with dignity” can capture the enormity of what happened to Brittany Maynard and those who loved her, yet that is the fate of all of us, more or less, sooner or later. Some people are offended by their own mortality, which is the flip side of the “I don’t want God to be God, I want to be God myself” coin. If there is any dignity to be found in death it’s not because someone makes a choice about it – for in the end none of us has one – nor in some law passed by the state of Oregon that can’t change that simple reality either.
If I had to find something dignified, it would probably be the dying person submitting to fate and giving the death – and therefore the life that preceded it – meaning. Much meaning.
I have no basis to say that Brittany Maynard didn’t do exactly that. And maybe the wider discussion about death and its meaning is her dignity in all this. But reducing her suffering and death to a political slogan just seems an unnecessary final indignity to me.