Just before New Years’ day, while many Americans were traveling, relaxing, and preparing to welcome the new year, Kristen Hanson became a widow.
Her husband, JJ, died after a three-year battle with gioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain cancer, the same type of brain cancer Senator John McCain has, and the same one Beau Biden died from.
A former Marine who fought in Iraq, JJ was diagnosed in 2014. Doctors said his cancer was “terminal.” One gave him four months to live, and told him to go home and prepare for his death. Another said that his “best case scenario” was 18 months.
JJ outlived the most optimistic prediction by more than double, and on the way became an outspoken opponent of assisted suicide. He said that assisted suicide should not be a “treatment option.” He challenged the premise that it’s more “dignified” to die via euthanasia than to die fighting terminal illness.
As he said in a video for the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, even if he were okay with taking his own life, assisted suicide would deny his son days, weeks, months, or even years with his dad. And it would have a negative lifelong impact on his wife.
This is something my girlfriend, Bethany Mandel, has written about and shared on social media. Her dad committed suicide in 2009. People who kill themselves may see suicide as an “escape,” but for many of the people they leave behind, it’s the entrance into a sort of living hell.
Ironically, Brittany Maynard, a heroine of the “Right to Die” movement, which says humans should have the right to kill themselves and undergo voluntary euthanasia, had the same diagnosis. She died in 2014 at the age of 29, via assisted suicide.
From People Magazine to The New York Times to The Los Angeles Times, Maynard was celebrated for choosing “death with dignity” over a drawn-out, grueling battle with cancer. Her widowed husband, Dan, is still advocating for assisted suicide laws across the country. The Brittany Fund’s website, “Started a global conversation about death with dignity.”
“Because Brittany shared her story and touched the lives of millions of people,” the site reads, “more than half of the states and the District of Columbia introduced aid in dying legislation in 2015.”
California, where I live, is one of those states.
Here, and in other states, doctors can encourage patients who are considered “terminal” to end their lives prematurely. Here, and in other states, death is a treatment option. How this doesn’t violate the Hippocratic oath, I will never know.
In the spring of 2017, Kristen Hanson posted a heartrending account on the family’s blog in which she talked about JJ’s cancer returning, their struggle to have another baby, and the “miracle” that appeared in the midst of their family’s darkness.
Their second son, Lucas, was born in August. In October, JJ posted about loving life and living it to the fullest with their new son. I also had a baby in August, she’s five months old, and I cannot fathom the heartache and pain Kristen is feeling today. I cannot imagine the sadness and difficulties these two boys will have growing up without their father.
I also know, from the experience of friends and family who have suffered great loss, that every memory you have with the person you love before they go is precious and should be celebrated and cherished. JJ gave his wife more days with him; he gave his oldest son James memories of him, and he literally gave a part of his life to Lucas.
Instead of honoring how people choose to die, we should celebrate how they choose to live, even in their darkest moments.
If you would like to donate to help Kristen, James and Lucas please click here.