J.J. Hanson, a valiant advocate against assisted suicide, died on Dec. 30 after a three-year struggle with brain cancer.
The 36-year-old husband and father was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. In 2014, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma. Hanson’s doctors told him that he had just three or four months to live; but he chose to battle through the disease anyway. He underwent surgery, chemotherapy and an experimental treatment that gave him three more years with his wife and two young sons.
In that time, he also became a strong advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and terminal illnesses. He fought against the assisted suicide lobby as the president of the Patients’ Rights Action Fund. His personal story and his advocacy for patients’ rights helped states across the U.S. defeat doctor-prescribed suicide bills.
“… his life story has been an encouragement and an inspiration to cancer survivors and many others across the country,” the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide said in a statement. “We will miss J.J.’s leadership, his optimism, his selflessness, his tenacity and his willingness to draw upon his own difficult experiences to advocate for others facing challenging medical problems.”
“JJ lived his motto: ‘Every day is a gift, and you can’t ever let that go,’” said Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, in a statement.
Hanson grew up in Sullivan County and was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served as an aide for Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. He later served as budget director for Ulster County Executive Mike Hein.
His wife, Kristen, and two young sons, James and Lucas, survive him.
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A report by the New York Daily News has more details:
Gallagher said that Hanson “reached out to doctors, veterans groups and other organizations, persuaded lawmakers and journalists, raised funds for cancer research, traveled to Albany, Washington, D.C., and states all across the country, and took every opportunity to promote compassionate life-affirming care for persons facing disease and disability.
“And he did that while facing tremendous health hurdles, undergoing surgeries and treatments, and caring for his family.”
Not long after Brittany Maynard’s doctor-prescribed suicide became big news, Hanson responded with his own cancer story.
“[Brittany] took her cancer story public, and it was used to headline a national effort to ‘normalize’ assisted suicide; a notion that had previously been rejected by dozens of states,” Hanson wrote in a column for the New Jersey Star-Ledger in 2016. “The message sent to patients across the country, who, like me, wanted to fight and live was now — ‘assisted suicide may be the best option for you.’ I recognized this as a huge danger.”
Hanson said he refused to give up hope. He and his wife traveled to doctor after doctor until one agreed to treat him.
“There were days when I completely lost all of my most basic physical abilities. I couldn’t talk, walk, read or write,” Hanson wrote in 2016. “I fought for treatment that was so difficult there were times when I questioned if the struggle was worth the pain.”
If doctor-prescribed suicide had been legal in his state, Hanson said he easily could have succumbed to the same fate as Brittany Maynard, who committed suicide with a lethal drug prescribed by a doctor on Nov. 2, 2014 in Oregon.
Hanson said he wondered what would have happened if he had access to assisted suicide drugs.
“I would have lost the opportunity to make memories with my wife and son,” he wrote at the time. He and his wife later had a second child.
He worked hard with the hope that his story would inspire others facing terminal illnesses to not give up hope or throw away their lives.
“Without a doubt, people similar to me facing desperate situations will feel like assisted suicide is their only option,” Hanson wrote. “In our society we should be focused on giving hope to the vulnerable and the sick at their greatest time of need, not taking hope away.”