By Deborah Ziegler, Death with Dignity Board member and mother of Brittany Maynard
I’m writing to you this morning from Santa Fe, where I have come to celebrate my daughter, Brittany Maynard, on the sixth anniversary of her death. My husband and I just touched down after a sunrise hot air balloon flight: a tribute to a ride Brittany and I took when she was in middle school. Recreating moments like this helps me stay close to my daughter’s energy and wild and precious spirit.
I miss my daughter with every fiber of my being but I’m also aware of the tremendous grace that her untimely death on November 1, 2014 brought to humanity—and how her decision to use the Oregon Death with Dignity Act to die on her own terms forever changed the movement for medical aid in dying.
A Shattering Diagnosis
Brittany was diagnosed on Jan 1, 2014 with diffuse astrocytoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. She was just 29 years old. I was absolutely shattered when I learned of her diagnosis, especially once it became clear after a craniotomy that the cancer had progressed and was now a glioblastoma which would lead to an unspeakably painful death.
True to form, Brittany took control of her circumstances and started researching end-of-life options that would help ease her suffering and allow her to die in a way that was true to how she’d lived her life: with independence and conviction.
A Fateful Decision
When she learned about Oregon’s death with dignity law, she immediately checked to see if her home state of California had a similar law. When she learned it did not, she worked to establish residency in Oregon. She also began to think about what she could do to help get a law passed in California.
Her unshakable belief that death with dignity should be a fundamental human right drove Brittany, with some trepidation, to decide to open up her heartbreaking private life to the public.
A Catalyst for Change
Brittany’s choice to share her painfully powerful story with the public came at a personal cost, especially as she entered the final stage of her life. But her ability to articulate why the option of medical aid in dying was so important for individuals with a terminal illness touched the hearts of millions of people worldwide, and contributed immeasurably to the passage of the End of Life Option Act in California and the groundswell of support for death with dignity nationwide.
70 Million and Growing
In the six years since Brittany’s death, four states and Washington, D.C. have passed death with dignity laws, and more than half the states have considered similar legislation. Today, over 70 million Americans have access to death with dignity. Brittany’s advocacy and openness about her end of life choices played a big part in this progress.
In Her Honor
I joined Death with Dignity National Center’s Board of Directors to continue my advocacy in Brittany’s honor. I’m so proud of the work this organization does.
Thank you, Britt, for your bravery and your dedication to bringing what should be a fundamental human right to all those experiencing unbearable suffering at the end of life. And thanks to Death with Dignity supporters around the world for their unshakable belief in this movement. Brittany would be so proud.
Death with Dignity Board Member and Brittany’s momma