HARTFORD – Bristol resident Maggie Karner became a recognized voice against physician-assisted suicide after making a strong case for life in a YouTube video addressed to Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old from Oregon whose own video had announced over social media her decision to choose physician-assisted suicide.
Both women had been diagnosed early in 2014 with the same type of aggressive brain cancer.
Brittany ended her life under Oregon’s doctor-assisted suicide law on Nov. 1 in the midst of worldwide attention that catapulted her decision, and the issue of assisted suicide, into the public square.
Mrs. Karner, 51, continues to embrace life, after surgery and during continuing treatment, armed in part with her strong Lutheran faith.
An article Mrs. Karner wrote for the web magazine, The Federalist, titled “Brain Cancer Will Likely Kill Me, But There’s No Way I’ll Kill Myself,” appeared in October 2014. Her subsequent “A Letter to Brittany Maynard” on YouTube has had almost 410,000 views.
“So I guess Brittany Maynard and I became the overnight Internet brain cancer poster children on either side of the assisted suicide debate,” Mrs. Karner said in a talk in November at the East Coast Regional Assisted Suicide Conference in Windsor Locks, where she was among featured speakers.
At the conference, she spoke in opposition to the legislative proposal Connecticut is facing once again from well-funded and communications-savvy proponents of physician-assisted suicide, for the third year in a row.
The bill was introduced to the General Assembly on Jan. 23.
She spoke to the Transcript recently by telephone about her efforts against physician-assisted suicide.
“We’ve been down this road, twice already,” she said. “We’ve been through this two years in a row, we’ve had ample conversation and ample discussion. People in Connecticut clearly don’t want it, and honestly I don’t think our legislators want it. Their time could be better spent on issues that people in Connecticut do want.”
She said that, because the proposal was not successful in both previous years, she thinks it will fail again.
“I’m confident that folks in Connecticut don’t want this. We don’t want what they’re selling. We see there are better ways to take care of people in end-of-life situations.”
Palliative care, or management of symptoms by health care professionals, is one option that needs to be more widely known and considered, Mrs. Karner said.
“I think access to palliative care services early on should be available. Sometimes you get better; it’s not just a slippery slope all the way down to the end …. But there are times you need pain management, good pain management, or you get really discouraged,” she said. She added that palliative care and hospice offer family assistance and counseling, when needed.
Until her recent treatment regimen demanded that she step aside from a demanding worldwide travel schedule, Mrs. Karner was director of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s life and health ministries. She led medical teams and worked on relief projects in 11 countries, seeing “the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick,” as she put it.
She described her work with “amazing” health professionals who embraced their vocations as gifts from God, and called physician-assisted suicide “a distortion to the medical arts.”
Assisted suicide is un-Christian, she told the Transcript.
“The right to die is a misnomer. It doesn’t have any application to Christians. We have good Christian folks who say things like, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to my family.’ They think it sounds good and that they sound humble and have a servant heart, but really they’re not. We need to be a burden to our families and to each other. That’s what Christianity is all about. Christians don’t approach this subject or any subject using the language of independence.”
But she was also quick to point out that physician-assisted suicide is more than un-Christian; it is a moral issue that affects all of society.
“Connecticut is a compassionate state and we want to care for vulnerable people and the elderly and people with disabilities, and not allow people to feel pressure by families and others to end their lives,” she said. “I think Connecticut people understand that this is a public policy issue, not a personal or individual choice, because it affects everybody, especially those who are vulnerable.”
Putting assisted suicide in the hands of lawmakers is a dangerous proposition, Mrs. Karner said.
“You’re essentially handing over control to others or the government, and with our fragile health care system, the last thing we need to do is allow our government to make more decisions about our lives. So it’s a very scary proposition.
“All you have to do is look at the test cases … Study Oregon, and if you want to look at the extreme case, look at Belgium. It’s very, very scary. There they are now euthanizing not just assisted-suicide cases, but people with mental illness and children.”
Mrs. Karner said she plans to continue to fight against assisted suicide. “Whatever I can do to advance education on this issue, I will do until I can’t do it anymore,” she said.
Mrs. Karner went to the nation’s capital Jan. 21-22 for the annual March for Life. This year, because of her ongoing treatment, instead of marching with her husband Kevin and daughter, she watched the gathering on EWTN.
The family also attended the second annual Lutheran life-issues conference held in conjunction with the march.