When Brittany Maynard made the decision to die in November of 2014, she also made a powerful statement supporting the Death with Dignity movement. But although she is no longer with us, her legacy continues: On Wednesday, two Democratic state senators in California — with the support of Maynard's husband, Dan Diaz, and her mother, Debbie Ziegler — introduced the End of Life Option Act. If passed, this act would allow terminally ill patients in California to choose when and how they die: Doctors would be permitted to prescribe patients who request it lethal doses of medication.
This is especially notable for the fact Maynard originally hailed from California; she moved to Oregon with her family after receiving her diagnosis, as at the time, her home state did not support Death with Dignity. She spent her final days surrounded by her friends, family, and loved ones before taking a lethal dose of medication on November 1, 2014. In accordance with Oregon's Death with Dignity law, her cause of death is listed as a brain tumor — a detail which is important to note. Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, who co-authored the California bill with Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, said, "Some will describe this as an assisted suicide bill and we strongly disagree with that. As Brittany Maynard so eloquently said, 'I don't have a suicidal bone in my body.' In respect for her...we are naming it the End-of-Life Choice Act." I can't think of a better way to honor her story and the work she did in advocating Death with Dignity.
At the time of Maynard's passing, only five states allowed terminally ill patients the right to die on their own terms: Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington. California, along with Michigan and Maine, had been considering them, but had not actually passed any legislation regarding the issue. But now, with California's new bill on the table, it's clear that the Death with Dignity movement is gaining traction — which, as far as I'm concerned, can only be a good thing.
Nor is California the only state currently reconsidering its stance on the Death with Dignity movement: Shortly after Maynard's death, New Jersey's for the Terminally Ill Acts Aid in Dying passed the state Assembly. According to CBS News, the bill was introduced by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, whose sister Claudia died of lung cancer in 2013. It hasn't been made law yet — at the time the Assembly passed the act, it was unclear about whether it would go to the state Senate yet — but it's a step in the right direction.
It's commonly believed that if you can prolong a life by any means, then you absolutely should — and in some cases, sure, that's the truth. But what if the person whose life we're talking about doesn't want it prolonged? What if prolonging it just means more pain or more suffering for them? What right have we to decide what someone else does with their own body? I'm firmly of the belief that we don't have that right. The only one who does is the person in question, and that's what the Death with Dignity movement is all about.
In addition to these pieces of legislation, the fund which bears Brittany Maynard's name, The Brittany Maynard Fund, and the organization she advocated with, Compassion & Choices, continue to push for others. Find out more at their respective websites.
Images: Brittany Maynard/Facebook (2)