Christian woman seeks right to die from California lawmakers

by Vanessa Rodriguez |

(Compassion and Choices)Christy O'Donnell, 46, says she would rather spare her daughter, Bailey Donorovich, 20, the pain of watching her die.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Christian Examiner) -- A terminally-ill single mom and professed Christian filed a law suit last week for the right to end her life at her California home where assisted suicide is illegal.

The legal organization Compassion and Choices, filed suit on behalf of Christy O'Donnell, 46, and three other patients with advanced forms of cancer May 15.

Compassion and Choices is the end-of-life group that advocated and publicized the death of Brittany Maynard, a young California woman who moved to Oregon where she took her own life with doctor-prescribed lethal medication.

O'Donnell was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last June and given six months to live. She reportedly reached out to the group because of Maynard's story.

Since her diagnosis, the civil rights attorney and former police sergeant has undergone chemotherapy, participated in various clinical trials, and survived the initial life expectancy doctors gave her. However, the disease has continued to spread throughout her body and brain. As a result of her increasingly unstable condition, O'Donnell spent several days in the hospital last month People Magazine reported.

Feeling that she has "exhausted her options," O'Donnell asserts she would rather end her life then wait for her left lung to collapse and die a painful death drowning in her own fluid.

'I owe this to myself, and I owe this to my daughter," O'Donnell said adding that she would rather spare her 20-year-old only child, Bailey Donorovich, the pain of watching her die. "She's either going to come home and she's going to have to discover my body, or she's going to have to watch me die painfully."

Still, O'Donnell, like Maynard, seems to draw the alleged strength to die from her fear of pain in the process of death.

"I spend an inordinate amount of time being afraid of the pain that I'm going to endure. All of that time that my mind spends thinking about that, I am not living. I don't want to die [but] I should be able to get a prescription [for aid-in-dying medication], have that peace, and never think about it 'til the day I'm ready to die."

But it is in that process where God met another terminally ill woman, Kara Tippetts, who prior to her death in March openly shared about God's grace in her suffering. Throughout her illness 38-year-old Tippetts advocated against physician-assisted suicide and even publicly pleaded with 29-year-old Maynard not to take her own life.

Tippetts used her own story to challenge both the terminally-ill and healthy to live each day free of fear. The late pastor's wife used her testimony of God in the midst of difficulty to encourage others to practice both life and death in the support of community.

"Brokenness isn't a mistake or the absence of God's goodness," she told Christian Examiner in an interview last November.

"In a world that loves health and wealth (it's important) to begin to look at the hard corners of life as not being a mistake," Tippets said. "There are so many who are suffering and are doing it quietly. We need to do it in community. We are meant to live in community with one another and carry each others burdens."

Yet, O'Donnell claims that even with her support system she is choosing to shorten her life and challenges her critics with claims that aid in dying is not a "sin," according to a biography on the Compassion and Choices website.

"I've been a Christian my whole entire life and I am today. I believe in God. I pray and I have an entire support system that prays for me."

For her the issue is a matter of religious freedom, she notes.

"As a Christian, I believe it is not for me to judge someone else or try to limit his or her religious freedom."

A California bill called the End of Life Option Act (SB 128), is currently under consideration by the state's lawmakers. Modeled after Oregon's death-with-dignity law, if passed the measure would legalize physician-assisted suicide in California.

Though the bill must still clear a state Senate committee and the Senate floor before consideration by the General Assembly, the California Medical Association announced Wednesday, May 20 that it would no longer oppose the bill although the Norher California Oncologists and the Medical Oncology Association of Southern California remain opposed.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, has also gone on the record opposing the bill, citing his son Matthew's suicide at age 27 in 2013.

Currently, medical aid in dying is legal in Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. A recent poll shows that California voters support the medical option of aid in dying by more than a 2-1 margin (64 percent vs. 24 percent).

In the Netherlands, suffering is defined as physical and psychological -- and in Belgium legislation states "a patient seking euthanasia must be in a hopeless medical sitution and be constantly suffering physically or psychologically," according to Life.org

One of California's earliest right to die cases involved Elizabeth Bouvia in 1983. At 26 years of age, college educated, disabled woman who was born with cerebral palsy was divorced from her husband and was suffering from what disability rights activists estimated later to be depression. Her right-to-die attorney, Richard Scott, a co-founder of the Hemlock Society, committed suicide in 1992. He and Bouvia had remained friends and she had told him she wanted to be moved out of the hospital and into an apartment. Bouvia was said to still be living in 2008.

Just months ago, Lauren Hill, an Ohio teen who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in her senior year of high school shortly after she turned 18, fulfilled a lifelong dream when she led in a public fight against her cancer and died at age 19. She raised more than $1 million for cancer research before her death.  

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