When the doctor walked in to deliver her diagnosis, Elizabeth Bakewicz noticed that all 5 residents were staring at the ground. “They looked like they were about to take a penalty shot at a soccer game,” she remembered. Then Elizabeth learned why: she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Her doctor estimated she had 3-5 years to live.
“I am struggling with the concept that this is an ongoing battle within my body, one that I must remember, I cannot control…,” Elizabeth wrote in her journal two years later. “I’m tired already. But God keeps me safe. My body feels broken… as if hit by a Mack truck.” It is a tiny glimpse into the suffering Elizabeth endured on a daily basis throughout her 11 year battle with brain cancer and epilepsy. She was no longer able to drive her daughter around. She could not pursue the law career she envisioned. Seizures became a weekly, then daily, occurrence.
Yet, as deeply as her illnesses impacted her, they never defined her.
As a Blackstone Fellow, lawyer, writer, and advocate for life, Elizabeth harnessed her own pain to advocate powerfully against legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide. She exposed the danger of viewing patients as burdens instead of as people with unique purpose and value.
Her efforts were marked with urgency. She saw the world around her sliding down the slippery slope of devaluing life. Euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is legally available in six countries around the world. By December 2019, it will be legal in nine U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia. According to the Belgian government’s most recent report, more than six people in that country are killed this way every day. In the first 24 weeks of euthanasia being legalized in Canada, nearly 800 patients’ lives were ended. Rather than being a rare exception, it is rapidly becoming normalized.
From her own deeply personal experience, Elizabeth argued that these policies endanger and devalue society’s most vulnerable citizens by falsely affirming that their lives are not worthy of living. “When one’s family, one’s doctor, and one’s society see a patient as a burden, it will be excruciatingly difficult for the patient to avoid adopting the same view,” Elizabeth wrote. Normalizing this not only threatens the foundations of health care based on the premise of “do no harm,” it also warps our understanding of a humane society. It creates a dangerous reality where certain lives are worth protecting while others are better ended. This, Elizabeth advocated, is both deadly and wrong. Dignity is not earned; it is inherent. People are not the mere sum of their sufferings. Their value is not verified by what they can produce or provide, but rather by their intrinsic worth as irreplaceable human beings.
In her words: “A life is not measured by its burdens on others but by a person’s sense of dignity and his measure as God’s beloved creature.”
On June 1, 2019, Elizabeth Bakewicz passed away. What defined her days on this earth was not the suffering she endured but rather the legacy she left behind, as a fearless and winsome advocate for the dignity of every life. A refrain she often repeated was that every person is “unique and unrepeatable,” and it is true: the fingerprints that Elizabeth left on this world could not have been replaced and will not soon be forgotten.
Now, it is up to each of us to honour her life and carry on her legacy by using our voices to affirm the truth that every human life has meaning and is worth fighting for — up until the very last breath.
To learn more, Visit AffirmDignity.org.