Elizabeth Bakewicz had been married just two years when she received her brain cancer diagnosis. She was also pregnant at the time, so she put off surgery in order to give birth to her daughter. Eventually, Elizabeth had a biopsy and doctors found that the cancer was malignant. Treatment began immediately, and through it all, Elizabeth and her husband continued to live their lives. They watched their daughter grow. Elizabeth gave birth to a second child, a son, and doctors who once worked to get Elizabeth to her daughter’s first day of kindergarten began working to make sure she was at her son’s first day as well.
Elizabeth’s daily life includes doctors’ visits, treatments, headaches and seizures. She needs help caring for the children, but even still, she will not give up fighting for every single moment. Why? Because Elizabeth knows that life is precious from the very first moment to the very last, and every second spent with her husband and children is an indescribable blessing.
There is an ongoing debate in our state and nation right now over whether doctors should be given the ability to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to assist someone, like Elizabeth, in ending their life. Supporters often describe this effort as “death with dignity.” Sadly, the moment we label suicide an act of dignity, we imply that those who choose to fight for every moment of life are somehow not dignified. Is Elizabeth undignified because she wants as many moments with her family as possible?
Despite the incredible advancements of modern medicine, we know that doctors do not always get it right. In Elizabeth’s case, the doctors correctly diagnosed her brain cancer, but told her she only had three to five years to live. She is now in year eight.
The truth is, doctors develop prognoses based on averages, and no one can definitively determine when someone will die. Imagine if Elizabeth would have chosen to end her life after her first prognosis. She would not have made it to her daughter’s first day of school, her son would not have been born, and she would have missed years of memories and experiences with her family.
Assisted suicide has been proposed in nearly every state, and it has been rejected by an overwhelming majority, including the New Mexico Legislature. In May, however, the Albuquerque City Council became the first jurisdiction in our state to endorse assisted suicide, and this month, the city of Santa Fe is scheduled to consider a similar resolution.
This trend is troubling, to say the least, and it sends a grievous message to our children, the disability community, the elderly, and the ill – namely, that when we lose autonomy and the ability to care for ourselves, our lives are no longer worth living.
When it comes to providing care for those facing serious illness and/or the end of life, we can and should do better than simply abandoning them to death and hopelessness. Instead, we should work together to find solutions that bring real compassion and care to those when they need it most. No one deserves to be abandoned or left out. Every life is worth fighting for.