Death With Dignity: Personal Ideology In Action

Identity, via Wikimedia Commons
Identity, via Wikimedia Commons

Identity is a highly personal concept that varies greatly from person to person. In our PolSci discussion, we said a person’s identity includes their self and social image, their likes and dislikes, values, and personal beliefs. As a result, a person’s identity is uniquely individual and is reflected in the choices they make in life. We often question if and how a person’s identity influences their actions and vice versa, however, they may be more inter-connected than we think. A person’s identity can be shown in many ways, but Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill cancer patient, has shown her true values in a way no other person can.

Glioblastoma patient, by Christaras A via Wikimedia Commons
Glioblastoma patient, by Christaras A via Wikimedia Commons

Brittany Maynard was recently diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and after multiple surgeries, her physicians told her she only had a couple of months left to live. This type of devastating news took its toll on Brittany and her family, as it would with any individual. However, Brittany has proven that this news can and will not shake her. By choosing to end her life with a new concept called “Death with Dignity“, Brittany is holding onto her own moral values and individual identity while coping with the effects of this horrific disease. The death with dignity act allows terminally ill patients to voluntarily end their lives through prescription medication to ensure a painless death. This type of assisted suicide is extremely controversial in the United States and has faced strong opposition. As a result, Brittany and her family had to move and become permanent residents in Oregon, which allows this. Survival instinct has driven Brittany to these measures, which gives us a view into her own moral values, personal identity, and personal ideology.

Ideology, as stated by Professor LaVaque-Manty in our PolSci 101 lecture, can be defined as a, “set of political beliefs that are used to justify something else.” Although we discussed this definition of ideology in regards to politics, this term can refer to a person’s moral ideology. Brittany Maynard clearly has a specific ideology in regards to an individual’s right to life choices, which can be inferred from her own life choices and the statements she has made about them. By choosing to end her life in this manner as opposed to passing on a random day, Brittany has shown that above all else in her life, she values and takes into consideration not only her own well being but also the happiness of her friends and family when making decisions. Taking this step to end her life days after her husband’s birthday shows the level of commitment she has for her husband and the people she loves. Brittany is consequentially using her moral, ethical, and ideological beliefs to justify the act of taking her own life. The choice to pass by using the Death With Dignity Act proves that Brittany values her own individual right to choose how she ends her life.

Cancer Biology, via Flickr
Cancer Biology, via Flickr

Although you many not agree with Brittany Maynard’s decision, everyone has the ability to sympathize and empathize with her condition. Cancer is an extremely heartbreaking disease for the patient and their family and friends. Brittany’s inner strength and determination to come to terms with her own disease and rationally choose the option that best suited her situation is something that I greatly admire. As someone who has had multiple family members pass away from cancer, I understand the pain and struggles that accompany this disease. Seeing someone face their fears in such a brave manner is truly inspiring. Many people speak about upholding their own values and rights that they personally value, but rarely are they brave enough to actually act upon them. Brittany acted in a way that sets a great example for anyone facing a terminal disease as well as for anyone facing a difficult life decision. Following your own true identity and moral values can seem like a daunting and impossible task, but in the end, it can drastically change the course of your life and help you become at peace. My thoughts go out to the family of Brittany Maynard and hope that the rest of her days are filled with happiness.

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One thought on “Death With Dignity: Personal Ideology In Action

  1. As shown through Brittany Maynard’s experience, identity is constantly changing. For Brittany, her identity was altered to that as a terminal cancer patient. Because of her choice of a “Death with Dignity,” her identity was further changed as she became the figurehead of a controversial practice of what you call “assisted suicide.” I agree with your point about Brittany taking a stand with her identity by choosing to ease the pain of her death. However, I see the situation a bit differently. As we talked about in discussion, some people believe that certain aspects of our identities are inherent and some that we consciously choose. For example, we have the power to identify ourselves as a Michigan student but do not have the power (for the most part) to choose our gender. In Brittany’s case, having terminal cancer is an uncontrollable part of her identity. Lacking control over this dominant aspect of her identity, Brittany was given the choice to regain a sense of command through “Death with Dignity.” While you argue this choice exhibits qualities of her identity, I see it as Brittany trying to regain control over an aspect of her identity that she lost the power to.
    Also, you bring up interesting points about the relation of value and family. I had not considered the effect that making this active assertion of identity would have on her family. I wonder if their struggle played any part in her decision.
    Overall, very interesting post! Brittany Maynard’s experience was an excellent way to connect identity, value and ideology.

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