Maggie Karner, RIP; campaigned against assisted suicide

Maggie Karner at 2014 East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide (photo by Ellen Kolb)
Maggie Karner at 2014 East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide (photo by Ellen Kolb)

Connecticut’s Maggie Karner died on September 25, almost a year and a half after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. She chose not to hasten her death. That wouldn’t be noteworthy, had another woman with the same kind of brain cancer not announced last year an intention to commit suicide. Karner’s videotaped reply –  “A Letter to Brittany Maynard” –  didn’t stop Maynard from carrying out her plan, but it found wide circulation (more than 400,000 online views to date) as a unique affirmation of life in the face of a deadly illness.

“I’m a strong woman, just like you. And I understand the horrible fear that you’re facing. Brain cancer sucks in a really big way. It’s a beast that lurks and prowls just waiting for a chance to pounce and take away more of our faculties. our everyday joys, and our very life. But you know what? Death sucks, too. It rips us from the people and the passions we love the most…. Please don’t let cancer get one more second of your life than it desires. No one is judging, but people are watching. I guess I’m yelling to you, Brittany, on your ledge: I’m asking you to stay with us as long as possible…. I know the predictions. I know what’s ahead for me and possibly for you. But we’re still here, aren’t we? We haven’t squeezed out every drop of life that’s in us yet….don’t leave us yet. Choose life for as long as we’ve got it.” 

It was my good fortune to meet Maggie Karner briefly last year, when she was a featured speaker at a pro-life conference in Connecticut. I wrote then about her call for fearless debate about assisted suicide.   I’m going to remember her as she was that day, speaking quietly and without hesitation.

“We have to come to terms with what this really is – with the fact that assisted suicide, let’s call it what it is, affects others, and not just those close to the self-appointed victims. It affects especially the weak, the disabled, and the most vulnerable. Because how long will it be before the right to die quickly devolves into the duty to die? What does this mean for all who are elderly, or disabled, or just wondering if they’ve become a burden to the family?

“My whole point today is that I have a brain tumor. So what? That doesn’t qualify me any more than you to speak about the danger to our society that assisted suicide poses.

“Don’t you ever let anyone tell you that you can’t have an opinion on this because you haven’t been through it. Today, you’re learning the information you need to have an opinion and to express it, without all the emotional baggage that Compassion and Choices wants to interject into it. This topic isn’t just for folks with an unfortunate diagnosis to decide. Not just people like me and Brittany. This topic of assisted suicide needs to be about every single one of us. It’s about all of us in our society. It’s about you.”