Last week, Brittany Maynard stood atop the Grand Canyon, dressed in a banana-yellow shirt, hot-pink sweater and a quiet smile. She posed in snapshots with her family — documenting the last adventure on her “bucket list.”
Maynard, 29, was diagnosed in April with a stage 4 malignant brain tumor and given six months to live. She also learned how she could suffer in the end, losing her ability to speak and use her own body. So, earlier this month, she made plans to die on her own terms.
“I don’t want to die,” Maynard told CBS “This Morning.” But she said she’s now suffering from “bone-splitting” headaches, seizures and “moments when I’m looking at my husband’s face and I can’t think of his name.”
Maynard set her death date for Nov. 1. She could change her mind at any time, but she said she doesn’t think she will. Her plan is to take medication prescribed by her doctor and die in her bedroom in Portland, Ore., one of five states with legal protections for terminally-ill patients who want to end their suffering.
In the past few weeks, however, Maynard has been living.
“The Canyon was breathtakingly beautiful, and I was able to enjoy my time with the two things I love most: my family and nature,” she wrote Oct. 24 on her blog. The photos she posted show her kissing her husband, hiding behind her mother and posing for a family portrait.
“Sadly, it is impossible to forget my cancer,” she wrote.
The morning after she visited the Grand Canyon, she said she was hit by her worst seizure to date, temporarily leaving her unable to speak.
“The seizure was a harsh reminder that my symptoms continue to worsen as the tumor runs its course,” she wrote. That’s why she said she has been using her final days to advocate for death-with-dignity laws. “My dream is that every terminally ill American has access to the choice to die on their own terms with dignity.”
Since Maynard made her decision, she has volunteered for Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit advocacy organization for the terminally ill. She also launched the Brittany Maynard Fund to fight for death-with-dignity laws in other states.
“I didn’t launch this campaign because I wanted attention; in fact, it’s hard for me to process it all,” she wrote. “I did this because I want to see a world where everyone has access to death with dignity, as I have had. My journey is easier because of this choice.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Maynard was living in San Francisco with her husband, Dan Diaz, 43. Doctors prescribed full brain radiation. She looked at the side effects and alternative treatments. She even looked at hospice care.
“After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion,” she wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left.”
So she chose doctor-assisted death.
However, California, like most states, does not have a law allowing terminal patients to end their lives. So she and her family relocated to Oregon, where she qualified for doctor-assisted suicide.
It’s Maynard’s choice. However, some opponents of physician-assisted suicide have expressed moral and religions concerns. Others worry that patients who are depressed might use such laws to end their mental suffering instead. Then there are those who argue that her death is being exploited by advocates of the cause.
“Assisted suicide movement leaders are always on the lookout for attractive cases to further their cause, and clearly believe they have one in Maynard because of her youth, beauty, and the tragedy of her condition,” Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow with the the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, wrote for the National Review Online.
Maynard responded to another opponent on her blog, saying, “The day is my choice, I have the right to change my mind at any time, it is my right.”
She added: “Because of the incredible reaction, something monumental has started to happen. Last week alone, lawmakers in Connecticut and New Jersey came forward in support of [death-with-dignity] bills, and promised to put them back in the spotlight. I won’t live to see the DwD movement reach critical mass, but I call on you to carry it forward.”
Maynard told CBS that although she’s upset she won’t have children, she knows her work matters.
“Through sharing my story, I’ve realized there’s a bit of a legacy I’m creating this way and I’m not ashamed of that,” she said. “I’m not ashamed to attach my name to what I think is a right that should belong to all terminally-ill Americans.”