PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A terminally ill woman who renewed a nationwide debate about physician-assisted suicide ended her young life on Saturday, Nov. 1, with the lethal drugs available under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Law.
Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with brain cancer on New Year’s Day and given six months to live, would have been 30 on Nov. 19.
Maynard had been in the spotlight for about a month since publicizing that she and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved to Portland from Northern California so that she could take advantage of the Oregon law. She told journalists she planned to die Nov. 1, shortly after her husband’s birthday, but reserved the right to move the date forward or push it back.
Maynard ended her suffering right on schedule after hinting at a possible delay in a video released last week.
“She died as she intended — peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones,” said Sean Crowley, a spokesman for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.
Crowley said Maynard “suffered increasingly frequent and longer seizures, severe head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms. As symptoms grew more severe, she chose to abbreviate the dying process by taking the aid-in-dying medication she had received months ago.”
The issue of physician-assisted suicide is not new, but Maynard’s youth and vitality before she became ill brought the discussion to a younger generation.
Working with Compassion & Choices, Maynard used her story to speak out for the right of terminally ill people like herself to end their lives on their own terms.
Maynard’s choice was not without detractors. Some religious groups and others opposed to physician-assisted suicide voiced objections.
“We are saddened by the fact that this young woman gave up hope, and now our concern is for other people with terminal illnesses who may contemplate following her example,” Janet Morana, executive director of the group Priests for Life, said in a statement after Maynard’s death. “Brittany’s death was not a victory for a political cause. It was a tragedy, hastened by despair and aided by the culture of death invading our country.”
Oregon was the first U.S. state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient of sound mind who makes the request. The patient must swallow the drug without help; it is illegal for a doctor to administer it.
More than 750 people in Oregon have used the law to die as of Dec. 31, 2013. The median age of the deceased is 71. Only six were younger than 35.
The state does not track how many terminally ill people move to Oregon to die. A patient must prove to a doctor that they are living in Oregon. Some examples of documentation include a rental agreement, a voter registration card or a driver’s license.
Four other states — Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico — allow patients to seek help to die.
Maynard earned two degrees and had an adventuresome spirit during her short life. She taught at orphanages in Nepal and spent time in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Costa Rica. She climbed Kilimanjaro a month before marrying Diaz in September 2012.
Before dying, Maynard tried to live as fully as she could. She and her husband took a trip to the Grand Canyon last month — fulfilling a wish on Maynard’s “bucket list.”
Maynard told The Associated Press in an Oct. 8 interview that her husband and other relatives accepted her decision.
“I think in the beginning my family members wanted a miracle; they wanted a cure for my cancer,” she said. “When we all sat down and looked at the facts, there isn’t a single person that loves me that wishes me more pain and more suffering.”