California enjoyed a major moment yesterday. Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Sen. William Monning, D-Carmel, introduced the End-of-Life Options Act, catalyzed by the heartbreaking heroism of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. Modeled after Oregon’s 1997 Death With Dignity Act, the bill now becomes the central focus of Compassion & Choices’ multi-year California campaign.
Maynard, dying of aggressive brain cancer, moved with her family to Oregon last year to access legal aid in dying there because she couldn’t in her home state. Then, amidst the trauma of terminal illness and uprooting her life, she ignited the push for choice in dying not only in California but nationwide. Her mother, Debbie Ziegler, and widower, Dan Diaz, both dedicated to fulfilling her mission, joined a Compassion & Choices board member and other advocates before nearly 50 journalists at the Wednesday news conference announcing the bill at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
“Until a loved one is faced with a debilitating, cruel terminal diagnosis, it is hard to understand just what this basic human right means,” said Ziegler in emotional testimony. “My daughter was full of life and love and energy. She was determined that she would live her life to the fullest and then depart this earth before the brain tumor ate away the fabric of who she was.”
Beyond the fact that more than 70% of Californians support aid in dying, the senators who authored the legislation both have personal motivations to expand end-of-life options in California. Monning, whose wife is a physician, has witnessed the needless suffering of close friends in their final days. And Wolk was only 17 when she watched her mother die from cancer. “It was pretty brutal … a transformational experience for me,” she said.
In the week prior to the exceptionally moving news conference, which you can view here, Maynard’s family and Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee appealed to the American public throughout major media – the first interviews Diaz conducted since his wife’s death on Nov. 1. Their appearances included The Meredith Vieira Show, Today, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC and People magazine.
Maynard’s ordeal highlights that terminally ill adults in most states cannot access death with dignity where they live. Introduction of California’s bill just months after Maynard’s story broke on Oct. 6 echoes the momentum across the country that has spurred lawmakers to vow similar bills in Washington, D.C., and at least 11 states: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming. It’s also powering Compassion & Choices’ campaigns to pass pending bills in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey, and to defend legally authorized aid in dying in Montana, New Mexico and Vermont.
“Having aid in dying as an end-of-life option provided great relief to Brittany,” said Diaz. “It enabled my wife to focus on living her last days to the fullest, rather than having to worry about dying in agony from terminal brain cancer. I promised Brittany I would do everything in my power to fulfill her mission to make this end-of-life option available to all Californians.” Her mother restated this passion to fulfill Maynard’s noble wish, “Please help me carry my daughter’s legacy so we can have the option to die peacefully in California, surrounded by our loved ones and in our home.”
Find out how you can help fulfill their pledge here.