At twenty-nine years old, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. The doctors told her she had only six months to live. The next six months however would not be ones filled with painless days and easy nights, but rather with endless doctor visits, medical research, and excruciating therapy. Brittany Maynard was just beginning to experience her newly-wed life and hoping for a family, but glioblastoma, the brain tumor, changed everything. As if the partial craniotomy and resection of her temporal lobe were not enough, the next step, she was told, would be full brain radiation that would remove all of her hair, leave first degrees burns on her scalp, and destroy her quality of life. Knowing this, Maynard looked into death with dignity.
Death with dignity is a law valid in only five of fifty states in the US. It provides terminally-ill patients with less than six months to live the option of voluntarily self-administering lethal medications. This way, the patients may be allowed to consciously end their lives that are better laid to rest than afflicted with both the disease and the therapy side-effects. As a result of her unbearable condition, Brittany decided to seek assisted suicide. However, the stories behind a dignified death are anything but dignified. In order to obtain the lethal injection, Brittany had no choice but to uproot from California and move to Oregon where death with dignity is administered. Searching for a new home, applying for another driver’s license, and enlisting others to take care of her pets and house in California were just some of the tedious tasks that needed to be done. Additionally, her husband decided give up his job in order to follow her to Oregon. While the process was gruesome, Brittany was determined to seize her last chance at making her life as human as possible. “The vast majority of families do not have the flexibility, resources and time to make all these changes,” Brittany stated in her article with CNN, however she believed that “to die on [her] own terms” is better than “to suffer for weeks or month in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain.”
After moving to Oregon, Brittany’s adamant belief in the rights of the terminally-ill to end their own lives became the platform for her campaign. To share her story as well as support other patients, Brittany became an active advocate for Compassions and Choices, a non-profit organization that strives to expand the choices at the end of life. Ultimately, Brittany created the Brittany Maynard Foundation that aims to “expand the death-with-dignity to all”, to transform her story to one of hope for others.
During her lifetime, Brittany has traveled to Vietnam, summited Kilimanjaro, taught at Nepal, worked in Costa Rica, and ice-climbed in Ecuador. As an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley with a Masters of Education from UC Irvine, she envisioned a bright future. After dating him for five years, Brittany finally married her husband Daniel Diaz a year before her diagnosis. Together, they own a small Beagle, a Great Dane, and a heart filled with faith. She upheld her belief to live her life even in the darkest of times when she was found trekking 10-mile trails in Alaska just a few months after her diagnosis.
Brittany passed away on November 1st, 2014. However, her desire to support others like her lives on. The thought that death can give birth to a legacy of hopes for others is both ironic and bitter sweet, but that is exactly what Brittany has achieved: she has given life to a call for change even after she has passed away. While glioblastoma may destroy her body, she refused to let it sit on her mind and eat away at her life. People have the right to live their lives the way they want, or not at all; it is not suicidal but rather an act of free will. The debate over the ethics of assisted suicide has been a long-time issue. However, this reflects exactly a culture that is, at its core, fearful of death and unwilling to face uncertainty. So to the critics of her decision, Brittany embraces her fate and asks instead, “why should anyone have the right to make [the choice to prolong my life] for me?”
In her last words, Brittany reminds us that “it is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest. If we change our thought, we change our world!”
And she has.
[Image Attribute: Dan Cox]