Dear America: A few words on Brittany and suffering

Brittany Maynard: 29 years old. Newlywed. Brain cancer. Plans to take lethal medication. Watch this video if you don’t know the details.

It’s a sad situation, quite honestly. She’s dying. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, but it’s hard to find the words to write about a woman who is choosing to kill herself to forgo suffering. So read this. It’s more moving that anything I could write. And now a few words to my fellow Americans.

Dear Americans,

Lately I’ve heard a lot of talk about Brittany – a beautiful young woman whose life is being cut short by a malignant brain tumor. It seems unfair that a person with so much potential should be taken from us, doesn’t it? Just in the prime of her life, and newly married, it’s not what she expected out of life. So Brittany plans to take her own life on November 1st.

And you – my dear Americans who value our freedom so much – are lauding her as a hero for freeing herself from suffering. I can see what you’re saying – really I can. If I knew I only had a few months to live, I would want to spend time surrounded by my loved ones too. I would go on adventures and make sure to be on good terms with God.

That’s why it makes me sad to see you passing Brittany off as a hero. She is undeniably suffering a great deal, and we should commend her for the strength she does have. But what defines us in the face of adversity is not getting rid of the adversity.

What defines us in these moments as we’re tempted to choose between “Bring it! I can do this” and “Screw this, I’m leaving” is our attitude toward the adversity, and our resolve to do what is right – to push ourselves past our limits and pursue the greatness we were made for. When training for athletic events, we see people who push themselves and we think “Wow! Good for them! Look how hard they worked!”. And when we see people give up and cuss the treadmill for being so cruel, we see weakness.

So why is this situation different?

With all due respect to Brittany and her family, running away from suffering is not an act of courage. Suffering is scary, my goodness of course it is. That’s why we wallow in the comfort of iPhones and relativism . . . and self-induced death when faced with prolonged suffering. But running away from it shows that we let that fear control us.

As the quote goes, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” I firmly believe that Brittany’s life, and any human life, is bigger and more important than any bit of fear we might have. It’s hard to crush the human spirit when the human spirit is resolved to soldier on. But when we give up, we give fear of the unknown the license to kill our dreams and ambitions. Why are we treating this as an act of courage?

Certainly Brittany’s life is not what she expected. But friends, how can we commend her for destroying the most precious thing she possesses – her life?

Instead, let’s encourage anyone going through suffering to look adversity in the face and say “I will not give up hope – I will fight until the bitter end”. It’s hard to imagine the pain Brittany is going through, and I do have compassion for her. I simply encourage you to look at the story of Rachel’s friend and consider which approach would challenge you to more virtue: facing suffering head on, or throwing your hands up and giving up when life gets hard.

Matt Walsh had an interesting take on this saying:

“Every noble ideal — justice, fairness, equity, compassion, charity — all of it, all of it, is grounded in the notion that life, human life, has intrinsic value. Not value according to its usefulness, or value according to convenience, or value according to how enjoyable it is. Value. Life is valuable because it is life. If you deny this, then you deny everything. There is no reason for justice, fairness, equity, compassion, or charity if human life has no value, or merely a value contingent upon whatever parameters we’ve arbitrarily assigned.”

And this is why I’m saying we shouldn’t be treating Brittany as a hero: because her life is so valuable that we don’t want her to throw away any of the time she has left by giving up. We should be praying for her and her family too. Please do join me in that. And lets show the beauty of resolving ourselves to courage in times of adversity.

No matter what our lives end up becoming, it’s probably not going to be what we expect. And if we want to leave a legacy of courage, may we always strive to “[l]ook at hopelessness in the face and say: ‘We are simply not meant to be together.’ Hold courage’s hand and walk away” to whatever our tomorrow brings.

To Life,


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7 thoughts on “Dear America: A few words on Brittany and suffering

  1. Whew, Laura. That is some serious stuff, and very well written too. I’m so saddened by the Brittany issue. Jenny at Mama Needs Coffee was challenging us to think about how we all decried Robin Williams suicide only a month ago, but now we (as a society) are lauding Brittany for making the same choice. We live in such an inconsistent culture.

    Thank you for taking the time to write about it. Oh, and the link above to Kara Tippetts story had me bawling. What a beautiful witness.


  2. Beautifully written … this story has been on my heart for these past few weeks, and now we are drawing closer to the day. The inconsistencies have been coming up in my mind as well as I see so many commercials for “Living Beyond Breast Cancer” this month – I can’t help but say that those women are living courageous. How can both be true? How can the woman taking her life because it might get too difficult and the women who are fighting every day for their lives and coming out on the other end alive both be courageous? I cannot help but think of the silly line in “Princess Bride” when he’s using the word “inconceivable” and the guy says “I think you don’t know what that word means.” I think that a lot about our society – courage, “dying with dignity”, love, suffering, sacrifice – all have skewed definitions.


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