McCain, who will celebrate his 82nd birthday next week, is a Navy veteran and prisoner of war who became one of the most influential national security voices for the Republican party in recent decades. He has served in the Senate since 1987 but has been unable to travel to Washington, D.C., since late last year due to his illness.
His family said McCain came to the decision after months of intense medical treatments.
“Last summer, Sen. John McCain shared with Americans the news our family already knew: he had been diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma, and the prognosis was serious,” their statement said. “In the year since, John has surpassed expectations for his survival. But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict.
“With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment.”
McCain is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Staff there have emphasized in recent months that he has remained involved in that defense policy work even during his time at home in Arizona, with an eye toward his eventual return to Capitol Hill.
Friday’s announcement makes that possibility remote. McCain’s family expressed gratitude for “the support and kindness of all his caregivers over the last year, and for the continuing outpouring of concern and affection from John’s many friends and associates, and the many thousands of people who are keeping him in their prayers.”
McCain is arguably the best-known veteran in America today. Both his father and grandfather were four-star admirals, and he is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who was shot down during the Vietnam War and spent five and a half years in enemy captivity.
After his return home he entered politics, establishing himself as a national voice on military issues and twice running for president. He was a frequent foil of President Barack Obama (who defeated him in the 2008 election) and in recent years has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump.
In a speech before his alma mater last October — one of his last public appearances before returning to Arizona for full-time medical treatment — McCain implored midshipmen to challenge their leaders but also to believe in American greatness.
“We’re hopeful, compassionate people,” he said. “And we still have leaders who will uphold the values that made America great, and a beacon to the oppressed.
“But I don’t take that for granted. We have to fight. We have to fight against propaganda and crackpot conspiracy theories. We have to fight isolationism, protectionism, and nativism. We have to defeat those who would worsen our divisions.
“We have to remind our sons and daughters that we became the most powerful nation on earth by tearing down walls, not building them.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.