Don Lemon surprisingly brought on a Catholic seminarian on Thursday's CNN Tonight for his take on cancer patient turned euthanasia advocate Brittany Maynard's controversial plan to kill herself. Philip Johnson, who, like Maynard, is afflicted by a terminal brain tumor, recently published an open letter to his fellow cancer patient – calling on her to cancel her suicide plans and "fight this disease," so that she can be an "inspiration to countless others in her situation."
Midway through the panel discussion segment, Lemon turned to Johnson, who, before entering the seminary, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the U.S. Navy. Though he treated his cancer-stricken guest with sensitivity, the liberal CNN journalist indicated that he was skeptical of Johnson's Catholic viewpoint:
LEMON: ...Philip, you were diagnosed – you know, with incurable brain cancer back in 2008 at the age of just 24 years old....So, how long were you given to live?
PHILIP JOHNSON, HAS TERMINAL BRAIN CANCER: I was told that the median survival time for my tumor was about 18 months – maybe two years, if I'm lucky. They told me that my young age was in my favor – that I might live a little bit longer. But as Brittany said, when you're so young – even if somebody tells that you have a few years to live – it – it seems like you're going to die tomorrow. So, it – it's an upheaval in your whole life. It really crushes all the plans that you had.
LEMON: Yeah. You don't really...agree with...what she's doing, but do you – I'm sure you can – obviously, you can empathize here?
JOHNSON: Oh, of course. That's – that's the reason I reached out in the first place. I was almost in tears when I saw her video, because I know what she's going through. And that's the reason that I wanted to reach out to her. A lot of the articles I've read are offering suggestions to her. But as Brittany said, until you've been in my shoes, you can't understand what I'm going through, and that's really true....And I felt like since I was in her shoes – I am in her shoes – that I could reach out, and maybe offer a different perspective.
LEMON: I'm going to go real quickly. You said, 'Dear Brittany, our lives are worth living even with brain cancer.' You wrote, 'I agree that her time is tough, but her decision is anything but brave.' Why isn't she brave in your eyes?
JOHNSON: Well, I think that suicide, in itself – obviously, I'm Catholic, and I disagree with it. But she's undergoing so much fear right now. And as I wrote in my article, as I've been suffering, I've looked for any kind of way out of the suffering that I could find – whether temporary – any kind of temptations. And I have a lot of friends with brain cancer that are getting addicted to alcohol. It's something that you just want to get away from, no matter what decision it is – no matter what it takes. And I really think that suicide is-
LEMON: She shouldn't have – make the choice to – you know, to die on her own terms?
JOHNSON: I don't think so. I believe that God made us with human dignity, and that human dignity continues whether or not we are alive and fully functioning; or if some of our faculties are taken away – or even if we're laying in a hospice bed. I don't think that, somehow, my dignity – when I'm laying in my bed dying – is less than it is right now.
Earlier in the segment, Lemon played two clips from a new video that Maynard released, where she indicated that she is considering postponing her suicide plans. He also interviewed Barbara Coombs Lee, the president of "Compassion and Choices," a pro-euthanasia organization that Maynard supports. The anchor asked Lee very deferential questions about her supporter's current status:
DON LEMON: ...There's been a lot of controversy about the November 1 date...The People magazine story quotes her as saying that that is the day that she plans to take her own life. But she says she never chose a specific date. Do you know what she is planning now?
BARBARA COOMBS LEE, PRESIDENT, COMPASSION AND CHOICES: I think these dates are – are soft in people's minds. People know that there are certain symptoms that they would exhibit – certain places that they don't want to go – that they consider worse than death. They don't know when they might be on the verge of that. But they want to live life fully until they are on the verge of that; and then, they want to have the control to have a peaceful death, and avoid the worse that their disease might have in store for them. So, it's a very individualized decision, and that's what Brittany is facing right now – watching her symptoms very closely. She wants to cheat her cancer of the worst that it would do to her.
LEMON: Okay. So...you said these dates are, in your estimation, arbitrary....
LEE: ...I wouldn't say arbitrary. I'd say they're soft. You know, people can't know for certain exactly when these symptoms will accelerate and escalate; and they'll start to experience things that they consider worse than death – unbearable suffering-
LEMON: Okay. All right – point taken. She also had a bucket list; and last week, she visited the Grand Canyon – the last thing on her bucket list. So, how's she doing on that final trip?
LEE: I think she did pretty well on that final trip. You know, she didn't do any hiking, of course. It was a helicopter trip. She was extremely fatigued afterward. And I think that she reported that after that, she had the worst seizure – the longest and the most severe seizure that she had ever had. And that may well have been the result of the exertion that she – that she had during the trip.