She’s Decided to Die With Dignity. I Wish My Grandmother Was Given the Same Choice.

I think Brittany Maynard is incredibly brave.

In case you haven’t heard about her already, Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given six months to live, according to NBC News. She made the choice to relocate, with her family and newlywed husband, from California to Oregon, where it is legal for doctors to help her end her life peacefully and on her own terms. She plans to take prescription medication that will end her life on November 1, in her own bed and surrounded by her loved ones.

She could have easily gone through with her choice quietly and privately. Instead, she willingly made her controversial decision public, and therefore opened herself up to scrutiny, judgment and media inquiry during the last month of her life.

She did this to raise awareness and let others in a similar position know that there are options. I applaud her for that, and question whether I would have had the same courage.

You can hear her whole story, in her own words, in this video below (but if I were you I’d have some tissue handy):


This is obviously a controversial topic with people on both sides of the issue — but my recent experiences have planted me firmly on Brittany’s side.

A little under two months ago, my grandmother, Dorothy Tamaccio, had a stroke. She was 91 and had been losing more and more of her memory in recent years, but other than that she was physically healthy. I had just moved to New York from California six months prior to her stroke, and it pained me that I hadn’t seen her in so long, so when I heard the news I bought a plane ticket home.

Gram with my father, her son.
Gram with my father Kevin, her son.

It was her wish to go quickly and quietly when it was time. She never wanted to be hooked up to machines or have her life prolonged unnecessarily. For these reasons she had a DNR (do not resuscitate) medical order. If all had gone according to plan, she would have quietly died in her care facility in La Habra, California.

She had the stroke on July 30, and it left her unable to speak or swallow on her own. This meant that our only options were to have a feeding tube put in (which would have been a very unpleasant process, not to mention expressly against her wishes) or to put her in hospice. We chose the latter, which didn’t feel like a choice at all.

My family had to painfully watch, powerless to help, while Gram slowly died of starvation and lack of water. This isn’t to say that she was in pain; she was well medicated by her kind hospice workers. While I can’t imagine that could be a comfortable experience for her, it was undoubtedly most painful for us– her loved ones.

Gram and I. Excuse the mouth gauze, I'd just had oral surgery.
Gram and I. Excuse the mouth gauze, I’d just had oral surgery.

It took an excruciating 18 days without any food or water by mouth for my grandmother to pass away. She had an IV during her initial four-day stay in the hospital, but after that she had no sort of nutrition or food whatsoever for the two weeks it took her to die.

Having gone through that, I don’t doubt for an instant the validity of Brittany’s choice. Not only do I think it’s a brave one, but I also think it’s a selfless one. For me at least, a decision like this is less about avoiding as much of her own useless suffering as possible than it is about easing the suffering of those who love her.

Nothing is worse than watching someone you love in pain. Especially when nothing you can do will help them. Not only will Brittany’s death be on her own terms, but it will save her family and friends from standing by and feeling every bit of her suffering more acutely and fiercely than she probably ever could.

To Brittany and her family, I am so sorry for your loss, but know that I understand your decision and I defend your right to make it. I only wish I’d been able to offer my grandmother the same choice.


Read more from Melissa McGlensey on The Mighty:

The Phone Call That Made Me Want To Dump Ice Water On My Head

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