When doctors diagnosed J.J. Hanson with terminal brain cancer, he considered sparing his family, and himself, needless pain and suffering.
“I was done,” Hanson recalled. “Would this be easier if I just gave up–if I just said, ‘This is too much of a burden on my family, the pain is difficult, I don’t want to deal with this?’ What if I just said I’ve had enough and ended it.”
Hanson passed away in December 2017–but not from a lethal dose of medication. Rather, he spent his final days vigorously opposing physician assisted suicide.
Hanson was president of the Patients’ Rights Action Fund, an anti-euthanasia organization, during his battle with cancer. He ultimately chose to fight that battle to the end: “Every single day is a gift, and you can’t let that go,” Hanson explained in a video released by the organization.
Hanson received his cancer diagnosis in May 2014, after an MRI scan revealed two lesions on his left temporal lobe: evidence of Grade 4 glioblastoma. Doctors deemed the tumors inoperable, and gave Hanson four months to live.
Hanson and his wife Kristen faced “overwhelming grief” but sought a second and third opinion. They eventually located a neurosurgeon who was willing to operate on Hanson’s tumors. “We were so grateful,” Kristen recalled. “We had hope that with treatment we could get time together.”
After a successful operation, Hanson entered a clinical trial to receive chemotherapy and radiation. Initially, Hanson appeared to respond to the treatment. However, optimism soon gave way to despair: in 2014, Hanson caught a common cold, which resisted his body’s efforts to beat it back.
“Those were dark days,” Kristen told reporters. “He questioned everything–whether it was worth fighting, whether he was too much of a burden to his family and whether it would be better for everyone if he gave up.”
Ultimately, however, Hanson decided that the answer to each of those questions was “no.” He continued treatment, and by 2015 doctors found no evidence of his tumors.
“My hope and my fight is to keep [the cancer] at bay for as long as possible,” Hanson stated at the time. He had reached a clear conclusion regarding physician-assisted suicide: “You can’t unmake that choice. Once you do it, it’s done,” Hanson said.
Hanson’s heroic battle against his disease and against euthanasia won him valuable time with his family. Hanson lived to welcome his newborn son Lucas into the world. “Life was good,” Kristen told The Washington Post. “It was a gift to have all that time that we never expected.”
Although Hanson eventually passed away in 2017 after his cancer returned, Kristen feels grateful that her husband chose to live his life to its natural conclusion.
“It was time I would never give back for anything,” she said.