The Big Reason This 29-Year-Old Is Fighting to Take Her Own Life

The Big Reason This 29-Year-Old Is Fighting to Take Her Own Life
Source: YouTube
Source: YouTube

Brittany Maynard will die Nov. 1. The 29-year-old chose that date because it's two days after her husband's birthday, and she wanted to celebrate it with him one last time before she takes her own life. 

Maynard has chosen to die with dignity in her own home and surrounded by her loved ones to avoid the unnecessary suffering that will surely accompany a rapidly-progressing, malignant brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme.

On Jan. 1, Maynard's doctors told her she had 10 years to live. "I have to tell you, when you're 29 years old, being told you have that kind of timeline still feels like being told you're going to die tomorrow," she said in a video describing her situation. But shortly after that, the disease progressed, leaving her with just six months to live. Maynard doesn't want to die, but also didn't want to spend her last months on Earth fighting a pointless and painful battle.

Watch Maynard share her story below:

Source: YouTube

"I can't even tell you the amount of relief that it provides me to know that I don't have to die the way that it's been described to me, that my brain tumor would take me on its own," Maynard added. Loved ones in the video express their support for her decision.

Making her own choice. Only five states in the U.S. currently have death-with-dignity laws, so earlier this year, Maynard moved to Oregon, where she'd be able to legally access medication that will quickly and painlessly end her life (the other four are Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington). But Maynard wants to make it clear that this is not a suicide.

"There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die," she told People. "I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there's not. My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that's out of my control. I've discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it's a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying." 

With her remaining days, Maynard is spending time with her loved ones, traveling and fighting for everyone else in the country to have the same right to control the time and setting of their own passing. As part of that effort, the Brittany Maynard Fund and Compassion & Choices released videotaped testimony telling her story, which is to be played for California legislators and the public arguing for a right to assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness. 

Death with dignity in America. Oregon has provided its citizens with the right to medically assisted end-of-life care since 1997, when the Death with Dignity Act was signed into law. Drugs that result in death are prescribed to patients, who can then choose to take them or not at their own carefully considered time. Since its passage, the state government reports that DWDA deaths have slowly but steadily increased as terminally ill Oregonians seek to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. As seen in the chart below, not everyone who receives the lethal prescriptions avails themselves of the option; in 2013, just 71 of 122 recipients carried out the procedure.

Only those 18 and older may participate and must have a diagnosis of certain death within six months. It does not allow euthanasia, in which a doctor administers the drugs. Persons qualifying for the DWDA must ingest the drugs themselves, though they do so with medical support.

The Oregon Health Authority says that roughly 69% of DWDA patients were 65 or older and almost 65% had cancer, while many other suffered from respiratory disease or other severe illnesses. Almost all, 97.2%, were able to die at home, rather than at a hospital, hospice or care facility. Nationally, just 25% of Americans die at home, though 7 in 10 would prefer to do so.

Elsewhere in America. In 2007, California's Compassionate Choices Act was defeated in the state Senate. Maynard was forced to leave California for Portland to seek out medical assistance and has since devoted the story of her struggle with cancer to ensure future patients have the same rights in their home states that she has been granted in Oregon. Think Progress' Tara Culp-Ressler reports that Compassionate & Choices is building a national campaign to push end-of-life legislation in several states:

In addition to advocating for eliminating unnecessary and expensive medical treatment that elderly patients may not want, the group is currently campaigning for "right to die" legislation in California, Colorado, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
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Most Americans do believe that terminally ill patients should be able to seek assistance from a doctor to die, but support for the issue is particularly dependent on the language used to describe it. When it's framed in terms of a doctor helping "to end the patient's life by some painless means" — rather than in terms of "suicide" — public support for these policies increases by nearly 20 percentage points.

Compassion & Choices' website is filled with similar testimonials, such as this sad but uplifting tale of a 90-year-old mother suffering from age-related conditions who was able to give her family a "joyous goodbye." Maynard's campaign is particularly striking given her youth and well-spoken defense of her decision to die with dignity, which makes her story even more relatable to those on the fence about compassionate-care laws. Hopefully, more states will listen and allow patients to choose their own way out of life and to whatever lies next, rather than let them suffer.