Dying 29-Year-Old Launches Campaign for Death with Dignity

Death-with-dignity advocate Brittany Maynard & husband Dan Diaz at their wedding
Death-with-dignity advocate Brittany Maynard & husband Dan Diaz at their wedding

With the few weeks she has left to live, 29-year-old California native Brittany Maynard is launching a campaign in partnership with Compassion & Choices to raise awareness about the need to expand death-with-dignity laws nationwide.

Death-with-dignity laws authorize the medical practice of aid in dying, which offers mentally competent, terminally ill adults with less than six months to live the option to request a prescription for medication they can self-administer to end their dying process if it becomes unbearable.

Brittany was diagnosed with an aggressive, fatal form of brain cancer earlier this year; realizing they had few choices, Brittany and her family relocated from the San Francisco Bay Area to Portland, Oregon, to access Oregon’s death-with-dignity law.

“Brittany’s courage to tell her story as she is dying, and alert all Americans to the choice of death with dignity, is selfless and heroic,” said Compassion & Choices president Barbara Coombs Lee.

“Most people do not have the flexibility, resources and time to uproot their family, establish residency in a death-with-dignity jurisdiction and gain the option to die on their own terms,” she added. “To accomplish that demanding task and embark on this venture to improve end-of-life care for other Americans is both noble and kind.”

On New Year’s Day, after months of suffering from debilitating headaches, Brittany learned she had brain cancer. Three months later, after undergoing surgery, she found out her brain tumor had grown massively. That is when physicians told her she only had a few months remaining.

“Right when I was diagnosed, my husband and I were actively trying for a family, which is heartbreaking for us,” says Brittany in the campaign’s first online video posted at www.thebrittanyfund.org. “That was a major shock to my system and … my family … They just wanted to search for a miracle.”

“In the beginning I hoped for everything,” says Brittany’s mom, Debbie Ziegler, in the video. “I hoped that they had just the wrong X-rays, the wrong set of scans; it was all just a big clerical mishap. Your brain will do really strange things to you when you don’t want to believe something. You will come up with fairy tales.”

After researching hospice and palliative care options in the San Francisco area, where Brittany lived with her husband Dan Diaz, she decided adding the option of aid in dying would provide the greatest choice for her and her family.

“Between suffering or being allowed to decide when enough is enough … it provides a lot of relief and comfort that [the death-with-dignity] option is there if and when … she decides that it’s time,” says Brittany’s husband, Dan Diaz, in the video.

“I can’t even tell you the amount of relief that it provides me to know that I don’t have to die the way that it’s been described to me, that my brain tumor would take me on its own,” Brittany concludes in the video. “I hope to enjoy however many days I have on this beautiful Earth and spend as much of it outside as I can surrounded by those I love. I hope to pass in peace.”

In addition to Oregon, death with dignity is authorized in Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. Compassion & Choices currently has campaigns to authorize death with dignity in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

A campaign to expand access to death with dignity in Brittany’s name launched on Monday, October 6 at www.thebrittanyfund.org. All funds raised will go to supporting Compassion & Choices’ state-by-state efforts.

Even in states where aid in dying is not authorized, options are available to prevent needless suffering at life’s end. To learn more about these options, and what is available to you where you live, you can call Compassion & Choices’ End-Of-Life Consultation program.

Compassion & Choices is a nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life.

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Rakesh Raman