It was a dying wish of Brittany Maynard, after a terminal cancer diagnosis led her to move to Portland, Ore., so she could legally end her life, that her home state of California would someday adopt Oregon’s death-with-dignity law
On Wednesday, three months after Maynard’s death at age 29 drew international attention to the issue, her husband and mother stood with nine California lawmakers to announce the introduction of legislation that would allow physicians to prescribe medications to hasten death for terminally ill patients.
“This option is something that Brittany and I thought should be available to all Californians,” said Dan Diaz, Maynard's widower, at the emotional news conference.
“She recognized that to stay in California would mean that she potentially would face a horrific death,” Diaz added. “Brittany was a Californian. We lived in this state and she would have preferred to pass away peacefully in this state.”
The California campaign is part of a national effort in the wake of Maynard’s death to enact assisted death laws.
Maynard suffered from an aggressive brain cancer that she believed would have caused great suffering before it ended her life, she said in a video posted on YouTube that has had 11.5 million views. “I hope to pass in peace,” she said in the video, posted by the group Compassion & Choices, which supports a death-with-dignity law for California.
With Maynard’s consent, the group set up a Brittany Maynard Fund to raise money and help pay for a campaign to enact death-with-dignity laws in the rest of the country.
“Please help me carry out my daughter’s legacy,” said Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, her voice choked with emotion and her eyes welling with tears. “Please help me assure that other terminally ill patients don’t face what we had to face.”
Having to leave their California home, their family, their friends and their pets to move to Oregon “added another layer of pain” for Maynard, Ziegler said.
Five states — Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington — allow terminal patients to seek medical help to die. In California, supporters are willing to take the question to the voters if lawmakers do not act.
“Right now our focus is the legislation,” said Patricia A. González-Portillo, California communications director for Compassion & Choices. If the legislation fails, “We are prepared to go to the ballot in 2016, but we are hoping to make this happen in California” through legislation, she said.
Similar bills failed to win approval in the California Legislature in 2005 and 2006 in the face of strong opposition from religious leaders who say suicide is an immoral act; the California Medical Assn., which said such laws are incompatible with their mission to heal; and the disabled community, which fears creating a slippery slope for such decisions.
Opponents argue that sick people could be coerced into ending their lives to save medical costs or by greedy heirs or abusive caregivers.
“If this bill passes, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse,” Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, said this week.