A Paralyzed Woman Decides To End Her Life, And Her Mother Agrees

On her website, Christina Symanski is standing and smiling on a bridge. On her Facebook page, she is seated in a wheelchair, smiling. An artist and an art teacher, at 24 she’d been paralyzed from the chest down in a diving accident. Afterward, she continued painting, using her mouth to hold the paintbrush and pouring her emotions about her paraylsis onto the canvas. “Painting definitely makes me feel happy,” she said. “It’s one of the few things I can still do by myself that I have full control over.”

Christina died in December. It was her choice; she starved herself to death.

Two months before, she stopped eating, taking medication and drinking except for occasional sips of water. As she posted on her website Life; Paralyzed, “When I think about all the factors, and weigh all the variables, that contribute to MY daily life, the negatives vastly outweigh the positives.” She was in a lot of pain and suffered from bedsores and the shame of needing to have the most basic functions done for her. When last spring she told her mother, Louise, that she no longer wished to live, her mother said, ”I was with you the day you came into the world and I will be with you when you leave it.” Christina passed away in her arms.

I first read about Christina last weekend, in this article, and she has haunted me ever since. Her blog is one of the most upsetting things I have ever read, raw and full of anguish and despair.

Part of me understands Christina’s decision to end her suffering. And yet, I kept wondering what I would have done if I were her mother. Would I have been able to let my child starve herself, even if it was what she desperately wanted? Would I have fought her every step of the way? I can’t imagine letting go of a child like that. I can’t imagine the conversations those two had.

As the mom of a child with special needs, I felt a certain connection with Christina’s mother. I am sure she was willing to do whatever she humanly could to keep her daughter comfortable and cared for. Letting her go, it seems to me, is the most unselfish thing a mother could have ever done.

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  1. by dderbydave

    On February 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Powerful stuff.
    But the right to end one’s life isn’t yet established in law. I wonder if this would have been stopped in some countries by the authorities.
    I have no idea what I would have done as a parent.
    She must be an immensely strong woman.

  2. by momttorney

    On February 22, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Wow. This one gets to me too. Would my Sammie one day feel like her life isn’t worth living if she’s in a wheelchair? I don’t even think I have it in me to read Christina’s blog. And, while we can never say what we’d do until we’ve walked a mile in the others’ shoes, I have to believe I would have fought. That somehow, I would have fought to help my daughter find life AFTER the accident. We have a good friend who was paralyzed from the neck down in his 50s, and although there were certainly dark days and a mourning period, he’s now working (running his own non-profit in the same field he worked before) and traveling the world. I guess I just wish Christina had been able to find life after paralysis too . . . I am speechless over this one, Ellen, and like you, it just gets to me. My heart feels heavier having read this!

  3. by Me

    On March 7, 2012 at 11:03 am

    As a decades long paraplegic I have made plans and have more than one means and ways to do so. And it is no one else’s business if i choose to use them.

  4. by John

    On March 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

    This article brings a tear to my eye, not because it is sad, but because I’m happy for her. I can totally relate to this wonderful young lady and what she had to deal with. I sustained spinal cord injury after a fall and although I am not fully paralyzed, I am in constant pain (morphine only takes a little edge off the agony) Some days I wake up unable to move from the neck down and other days (few and far between) I can walk with a cane. I live on my own (because I’m stubborn like that *wink*) but usually once a week I have to call a neighbor to come “pick me up of the floor” and help with other personal needs. Not a day goes by (3 years now) that I don’t think “I’d be better off dead” but my personal belief keeps me from “doing myself in”.
    It’s unfortunate (selfishly, for me) that she has already passed on to peace, and that I’m only now hearing about her… I would have loved to have the chance to chat with her. Only people in her shoes, who have had to endure the horror of untreatable chronic pain can relate to what goes on inside our thoughts. I’d give her a smile, I’d try to make her laugh and rejoice in the knowledge that she’d soon be free.
    I applaud Christina’s mother for standing by her wishes to die, that takes a lot of love and a ton of courage!

  5. by Joy

    On March 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I Feel so bad for this young women and what she had to go through. I as a Mother of a 22 year old daughter, I would have done anything in my power to show my child that there was still meaning to her life. I cannot agree with this women’s decision or the fact that her Mother held her while she slowly starved herself to death. I have days where I want to just not get out of bed I have chronic pain and I know the day to day torment it brings, however there are days when it is so great to be alive and enjoy what God has given us. But I can only control my thoughts and decisions and try to instill in my daughter the fact that bad things can happen but we must persevere the best we can until it is truly our time to go.

  6. by cnb

    On April 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Wow. While I cannot imagine the pain and despair this young woman endured or what her mother has gone through watching her daughter struggle with these feelings of obvious despair, it is incredibly discouraging and disheartening to read this and all the comments in support of this beautiful young woman’s decision to end her life. Life has so much to offer in so many ways, it is not confined to our limited view of the world. And each of us has unlimited potential and beauty and unique gifts to bring into this world to help make it a better place. We have lost one of those beautiful unique gifts to the world in a tragic and sad way in the death of this woman and it will leave a void that no one else can fill. I am saddened by the death of Christina and for the world that it has missed out on the gifts this woman had to offer. And for you who are in support of Christina’s decision because you too suffer and struggle, please don’t underestimate your worth and value in this world and the gifts you have to offer the rest of us. Everyone has struggles and pain and times of despair, none of us escapes, it may come in different forms and paths but we all suffer at times, we need to support and encourage each other and offer inspiration to each other when in need of it. And together we can transform this world. With sympathy to Christina’s family and friends at the loss of a beautiful life.

  7. by Bibiana

    On May 5, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Even though I have no right to judge this beautiful young woman’s decision, I still wish she had realized how much she still had to offer,even as she was.

  8. by Jen

    On June 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I don’t know. Christina comes off as a shallow party girl who got really drunk, dove into a too-shallow pool, and got paralyzed. She then felt sorry for herself until she decided to slowly kill her body by withholding food and medications. I had a hard time feeling much sympathy for her.

  9. by Lisa Enlow

    On August 23, 2012 at 6:50 am

    As a woman who’s fought life-threatening cancer more than once (& proved Dr’s prognosis of death wrong more than once) I can honestly say I’ve looked death in the eye & fought the good fight. Nevertheless, I have more than one plan should I decide to end my life & it’s no ones business but my own.
    With that in mind what can I say to my severely paranoid schizophrenic adult son who’s primary wish is to end his life painlessly as he finds life not worth living. If I were him I would feel the same & would only wish for a permanent solution.
    I pray that should we lose him I will be strong enough to
    want to go on living. Watching him suffer is torture for everyone.

  10. by amy3812

    On August 31, 2012 at 8:36 am

    My daughter’s father is a quardriplegic. He’s been on a ventilator before due to loss of functon of his lungs fromt the injury. He went into acute renal failure from spinal shock. He’s had aspiration pneumonia which lead to him being back on a ventilator for some time. He’s had large blood clots where the doctors said all he could do is pray that it didn’t go to his lungs, pushing his vena cava filter that was inplanted as well and insantly killing him. At one point the doctors actually thought he was bleeding into his brain from the blood thinners he is on to help reduce the blood clotting. He is 25 years old. My daughter learned to walk the week that he lost his ability to for the rest of his life. He has no quality of life at all. Don’t judge unless you have been there.

  11. by DJ

    On September 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I am reading the book “Joni” for the second time. The first time I was about the same age as the author when she dove off a pier and broke her neck. It made a profound impact on me. I only wish that Christina and her mother had read this book. Joni is now in her 60′s, I believe, and has such a vibrant ministry to the disabled. She went through all those same feelings of despair along with the bed sores but she chose life! All the good that she has done in her life would have been missed if her friend had done as she had requested early in her paralysis and slit her wrists for her! Anyone else who is going through what Christina went through, I would encourage you to get a copy of “Joni” and read it before making a life-ending decision. There is hope even in despair!

  12. by Lisa

    On October 24, 2012 at 11:03 am

    I just happen to come across this and although its an older article I feel the need to give my 0.02 cents, whatever its worth. Im conflicted with this idea of allowing your child to starve herself, however being that I myself was in a wheelchair for 4 very, very long years due to multiple sclerosis I can understand the devastation,frustration and weariness this girl must have had. Being in a chair is by no means easy and let me say it tests you! Yes you can do most things in your chair you can do out, however there were many times admittingly that I wanted my life over. With that said, I have kids and a husband whom I adore and just decided to make my life the best I could every day, in or out of the chair. Thankfully I am walking (Thank you God!)but I do know its a rough road. On the moms side, I cant say I would allow my daughter to starve herself, no matter her age, however I would have to suppose I would do whatever I could no matter what to help her see her value even in a chair and that you CAN have a productive, beautiful, wonderful, inspiring, peaceful and joyful life. Obviously no one chooses it, and I pray I never go back however I will end with the fact that I know I learned so much during that time—about myself, my family, others, and God. My kids learned among other thing,empathy, a quality many kids these days lack. My sympathies to the family.

  13. by Me

    On February 10, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    What about what should could have done for others? I’m paralyzed too and it’s not easy at all. But the value of life does not equal quality of life. Christ suffered. Sometimes we must suffer. It’s only temporary, as long as it may seem. Then comes eternity. Suffer a little now…or a lot in the next life.

  14. by Cory

    On February 12, 2013 at 4:42 am

    A little background: I am in chronic pain from playing guitar 10+ hours every day for over 30 years. Excellence at my craft required devotion, which eventually took its toll since I failed to heed the instructions about taking frequent breaks and active counteracting the instrument’s effects on my back and neck with yoga, stretching, chiropractic, etc.

    In the last few years I’ve been forced to take medication until and unless spinal surgery is deemed necessary. I’ve actually had some people exhort me not to use my (prescribed) narcotics, or tell me I have no “right” to commit suicide if the pain ever gets to be unbearable. Here’s how I handle such busybodies:

    First, I ask them to find a thumbtack. Then, when they have one in hand and are ready for the next step, I request they push it into any muscle along the spine (not even the spine itself, which actually pains me the MOST). I let them know this is to help them understand my daily struggles, to gain empathy for my situation. Keep in mind I have asked them to be in pain for only TEN SMALL MINUTES, on ONE day of ONE year in ONE decade. NO ONE has taken me up on my offer to gain empathy so they won’t continue offering such unwarranted intrusions. However (ALMOST as good), they NEVER comment on my choices EVER again.

    One does NOT have a right to an opinion. One has a right to an INFORMED point of view. Those who offer their opinions without being asked are BULLIES, plain and simple, and IGNORANT thugs to boot, no matter how “well meaning” the intention or sweetly timbred the voice delivering the message. Quite simply, our lives ARE the one TRUE possession we have.

    Also, telling an atheist or even an agnostic who suffers from chronic pain that he or she is “sinning against God” by taking a drug that alleviates said horrible condition’s symptoms, or by committing suicide itself, well, such an approach is hardly a good scare tactic ANYWAY. It doesn’t work. It is like punishing a person who hates liver by not allowing them to eat it!

    Sadly, I doubt such a narcissist would consider such issues, because he or she has ALREADY demonstrated enough thoughtless arrogance to deliver such harsh words to a person in suffering. The suicidal person did NOT come to that decision lightly, or overnight, or for NO reason. NO ONE who is pain free, growing as a person mentally and physically, and consumed by his earthly purpose would kill himself because there would be NO REASON to do so!

    Stating the young woman in the article had no right to her own life means whoever wishes her to be alive has MORE of a right to decide her fate, her very EXISTENCE, than SHE does. Doesn’t THAT sound like the REAL crazy perspective, wanting to subjugate another to YOUR will because you know what is “right”?

    Isn’t it MUCH worse to be a controlling, pushy person than the hurting soul who did nothing wrong except actually OCCUPYING the (depressed) mind and (broken) body? The first personality would enjoy or at least feel the compulsion related to implementing Big Brother style condescension at BEST. At WORST, since he would have LITERAL control over the second’s existence, he would be the master of a modern day SLAVE!

    Finally, this article discussed the choice of a GROWN WOMAN, not a CHILD still in development. Part of the joyful privilege attached to BEING an adult is that YOU get to decide what is right for YOU, NOT your mom or dad.

    Don’t like spicy foods? That’s okay. Since I don’t know what YOUR tongue likes but I BELIEVE you, I’ll make YOUR pizza WITHOUT crushed red pepper and mine WITH.

    Dislike the thought of dating black women? Great, DON’T. Now there’s more for THIS white man to love.

    Can’t bear to live in pain for another 50+ years? Fine with me. As a compassionate individual who doesn’t want someone controlling ME in any situation let alone one so personal and heart wrenching, is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable? Is there REALLY anything terrible about helping a patient in such a fashion, up to and INCLUDING heroin?

    Yes, I am a Quaker, libertarian, and conservative by nature, which means I believe in the INDIVIDUAL’S right to choose. By the way, not that it matters, but in case anyone gets the idea this is all self-serving nonsense to justify my habit of getting “high”, I am now and always have been drug free (excepting my current necessary and managed pain medication).

    In case you missed it, I’ve been referencing the “Golden Rule” here, people. ANY time you consider putting others in charge of YOUR life’s path, keep in mind it will NEVER matter as much to them as it does to YOU. Are you the employee or the president of your existence? Try to remember that others are the president of THEIR existences, too!

    Thanks for reading.

  15. by NoAdditives

    On March 19, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    I don’t think there will ever be a point in my children’s adults lives when I will feel that I know better than they do. I will always have to trust that I raised them to be good, intelligent people who know themselves well enough to make any decision that comes their way. If there ever comes a day when they are in a situation like this, I think I will probably trust their judgement. They will know what they are capable of, they will know what they can handle. I would not let them starve themselves though. Knowing what that entails, it would be a painful, terrible way to die.