Photo courtesy the Maynard family
On Saturday Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old right-to-die advocate, ended her life as promised, after battling a terminal brain tumor. She took a lethal dose of barbiturates prescribed by her physician and died surrounded by loved ones at her home in Portland, Oregon.
"Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love," she wrote on Facebook. "Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more." She continued, "The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type… Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!"
In April, after being told she had six months left to live, Maynard became the face of Death with Dignity, an organization whose mission is to provide terminally ill patients the option of doctor-assisted suicide nationwide. She had very publicly announced that she planned on dying on November 1, and she kept to that promise. She and her husband, Dan Diaz, had moved from California because Oregon's state law allows for terminally ill patients to die with assistance from a physician.
Her decision was met with objections from religious groups, as well as some doctors and others who believe assisted suicide is a bad idea. This debate is nothing new. The morality of helping a sick person take his or her own life has been questioned for years. What Maynard brought to the table was a face of youth--a relatable spokesperson who revived the debate among young people who might have only thought about death in the abstract before. In the strange, ageist world of doctor-assisted suicide (the median age of patients who used the state law in Oregon is 71), she spoke to a generation of her own, and her voice was powerful enough to inspire a dialogue across the country.
And often that conversation didn't support Maynard's choice. Last month in a New York Times op-ed, writer, professor, and physician Ira Byock cited examples from Holland, where just last year more than 40 people died with the assistance of a doctor due to depression. He gave an example of a 47-year-old woman who was granted assisted suicide for tinnitus. In Belgium, deafness was cause enough for euthanasia. Byock argues that doctor-assisted suicide is a "slippery slope." Where is the line drawn for which illnesses are bad enough to warrant killing yourself? And what's the age requirement? In Oregon a patient must be at least 18 years old to utilize right-to-die laws, whereas in Holland the minimum age is 12.
Last month, Maynard launched a video campaign with advocacy group Compassion & Choices, which aims to legalize right-to-die programs across the nation. Oregon was the first state to make the movement legal, in 1994. Today, just four other states--Washington, Montana, New Mexico, and Vermont--offer doctor-assisted death as an option.
"For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me," she told People earlier this year. "They try to mix it up with suicide and that's really unfair, because there's not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying."