You've probably heard the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with degenerative brain cancer, who took her own life rather than lose control of her bodily functions in what she referred to as "dying with dignity." Now, like all contentious issues, there are terms used that are emotionally-charged and obfuscate the main issue. In the case of euthanasia, "death with dignity" is one such term, since it implies that those who choose to live out their lives and accept the consequences are not dignified in their death.
Maynard's situation was tragic, and no one truly knows what they will do when they find themselves in that situation. It is a lousy situation all around. What she did was not brave, to be sure, but neither am I comfortable calling it cowardly, either. Even though she did the wrong thing, she was trying to take a situation that was beyond her control and bring it under her control. I don't want to overlook the tragedy of the situation, as so many have done so far. It's easy to denigrate someone for their choices when you're not the one going through it. I have even seen some indicating that because she committed suicide, she will not be in Heaven. But this is bad theology; Jesus told us that there is only one unpardonable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12: 22-32). I do not know Maynard's spiritual condition. But the only thing that would keep her out is if she wasn't trusting in Christ as her savior and redeemer.
The stark reality is that Maynard did not "die with dignity." As Trent Horn points out, dying with dignity is about how you face death, not about how you die. Choosing an early death is not dying with dignity because death, itself, is undignified. It is our enemy, which is why Christ had to come and conquer it. With Christ, death is not final. There will come a time when all the dead will be resurrected, and this is the time that we, as Christians, can look to for hope. Maynard taking her own life prematurely was not dying on her own terms, because she was already dying. Her choice to commit suicide was merely preventing death from dealing the final blow.
The situation was made even more tragic by the fact that she was in constant pain. Now, there are painkillers one can take, and as Trent mentioned in his article, it is not impermissible to take painkilling medication that has an unintended side effect of shortening one's life. But to directly take one's own life to avoid what comes at the end of life is wrong. There have been others who have a similar condition to Maynard's who tried to urge her not to take her life, such as Kara Tippets.
I've seen several people wondering about how her situation differs from people on 9/11, who jumped from the Twin Towers to escape the burning flames that were engulfing the building. The disconnect is that the people jumping were trying to escape the flames, and probably weren't thinking clearly in the heat of the moment (pun definitely not intended). Maynard's death was a premeditated act that implicitly says she doesn't believe that living a full life of suffering and accepting the consequences is dignified.
It actually makes me think of a general on a battlefield, fighting a losing battle. Surely if a general were to engage in a losing battle knowing that he had no hope of winning, that would be wrong. It would be tantamount to murder of his soldiers, and suicide if he didn't make it out, himself. But what if they are engaged in battle with a ruthless enemy, with no hope of winning? The heroic thing to do is to fight to the very end, not to surrender and allow the ruthless enemy to slaughter your soldiers.
Allowing the decision to end the lives of people who are suffering opens a slippery slope. How much suffering is too much before we deem a life not worth living? We've already seen some of this in our culture which has allowed abortion and euthanasia, such as the fact that roughly 90% of unborn children diagnosed with Down's syndrome aborted, and children like Baby Doe who was born in 1984, but had Down's syndrome and needed a surgery to correct a condition in his throat so that he could eat. Since he had Down's syndrome, the Supreme Court allowed the parents of Baby Doe to murder their own child by starving him to death.
We already live in a culture that doesn't respect life and doesn't understand the wonder and the beauty of it, even those lives that are not lived up to our culture's standard of quality. Brittany Maynard's case is the latest in a tragic line of people who viewed their own lives, or the life of someone else, as not worth living.