I know, I know. This article is so three days ago. As a nation, we’ve elected a bunch of Republicans and voted on controversial laws involving women’s rights and recreational pot since Brittany Maynard died on Saturday. But I just can’t stop thinking about her, and the public’s reactions to her death compared with the reactions to Robin Williams’ suicide this summer.
Brittany Maynard’s very public decision and ultimate action to end her life before the cancer did was ground breaking because she was so public about it. She’s not the first and she won’t be the last. A lot of people have ended their lives before an illness does, they just don’t tell the world first. Robin Williams’ shocking end was sadly not new to us. We have said untimely good-byes to a number of beloved celebrities. Both of these people decided to end their lives. One, apparently, because he was clinically depressed and couldn’t find his way back. The other, because she knew the torture that was coming and chose not to endure it.
Brittany has been characterized as both brave and cowardly, depending on the viewpoint. A Vatican representative recently condemned her suicide calling it “absurd.” He is quoted as saying, “Suicide is not a good thing. It is a bad thing because it is saying no to life and to everything it means with respect to our mission in the world and toward those around us.”
Conversely, Robin was even further iconicized for his work following his death. Reactions were filled with grief and remorse. There was outrage at the news of the various medicines he was on and the likelihood that they contributed to his death. We grieved for the greatness that was lost. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a brief article following the death of Robin Williams honoring him and calling him an “unforgettable clown with a heart of gold.”
So, both of them were ill. Both of them chose to die. One faced certain and painful death in her near future. One, had he been able to escape from the dark world of depression, faced many more years with friends, family and opportunities to pursue his “mission in the world.” Why are the reactions to their choices so different?
Incidentally, I use the public statements from the Catholic Church because they illustrate the bifurcated sentiments of many, not to criticize. This is not an easy one to figure out. At least not for me.