End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

Compassion & Choices

Brittany Maynard’s 30th Birthday Spurs National Call to Action for Death With Dignity

New “Call to Action” Video Narrated by Brittany Released

(Portland, OR – Nov. 19, 2014)  Compassion & Choices today launched a national initiative for expanded access to death with dignity on what would be Brittany Maynard’s 30th birthday. The organization released a new “call to action” video narrated by Brittany and featuring death-with-dignity activists from across the nation, including Anita Freeman of California, Sara Meyers of Connecticut and Dustin Hankinson of Montana. Brittany calls on all those touched by her story to contact their state lawmakers using an easy action tool at www.TheBrittanyFund.org, where the video will debut at 3pm ET.

Response to Brittany’s story, including from policymakers, proves the time is now to fix the nation’s unjust end-of-life healthcare system. The New Jersey Assembly passed an aid-in-dying bill last Thursday, 12 days after her death. At least one lawmaker who decided to support the bill cited Brittany’s story during the floor debate as a deciding factor: Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.  In her honor, legislators in California and at least 11 other states have pledged to introduce bills that authorize death with dignity. The other states include: Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-WY), who plans to introduce a death-with-dignity bill, and Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-PA), who introduced a death-with-dignity bill on Oct. 15 — nine days after Brittany’s story broke — are among the lawmakers whom Brittany inspired. Rep. Rozzi’s father died of brain cancer, as Brittany did.

“As we mark what would be her 30th birthday, we recall Brittany’s selfless efforts to help ensure that other dying Americans get access to the death-with-dignity choice,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, Compassion & Choices president and an attorney who co-authored Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which Brittany Maynard utilized. “Brittany carried a torch of human freedom this far. We must carry it to the finish line. We ask supporters to use every communication channel to tell their lawmakers to support death with dignity.”

“I hope for the sake of other American citizens all these people that I’m speaking to that I’ve never met, that I’ll never meet, that this choice be extended to you, that this right.  That we mobilize, that we vocalize, that we start to talk about it,” says Brittany in the video, which was recorded Aug. 2.

“I know my family will continue to carry this torch along for me, that they all believe in the importance of what I’m doing,” concluded Brittany in the video. “If there’s one message to come away from everything that I’ve been through, it is no matter what life kind of presents you with, is never be afraid to use your own voice. And even if you are uncertain, even if your voice is shaking, ask the questions you want to ask, speak up for yourself, advocate.”

A panel of experts, including Reps. Rozzi and Zwonitzer, discussed nationwide momentum to expand access for terminally ill adults to the medical practice of aid in dying during a national press conference call on Nov. 19.

Death with Dignity Option Wins in Watershed Assembly Vote

Aid in Dying Law Now More Likely for People of New Jersey

November 13, 2014 (Trenton, NJ) – In a move that brings the people of New Jersey one step closer to having the medical option of aid in dying, the New Jersey State Assembly voted 41-31 in a bipartisan fashion to pass the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (A2270).

“Today’s vote reflects our first victory in the memory and spirit of Brittany Maynard,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices, which advocated for the bill. “Brittany called on our nation to reform laws so others won’t have to move to a Dignity state for comfort and control in their dying. We’re honored to carry on in her name.”

The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act would allow a mentally competent, terminally ill adult the choice to request a prescription for life-ending medication that the patient could take – if and when they choose – in order to reduce suffering at life’s end.

The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act was re-introduced in February 2014 by Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli, whose own sister-in-law, Claudia Burzichelli, succumbed to lung cancer in 2013.   Prior to her death, she testified about her expected suffering, “…I would hope I might have more options than starving myself or taking my life in a violent way. I don’t know how I will truly feel if and when that time may come. But it comforts me there could be another way, other options. More

Vatican Wrong to Judge Brittany Maynard for Her End-of-Life Choice, Says Minister

Says Catholic Church Should Not Impose Religious Beliefs on Non-Catholics 

(Portland, OR – Nov. 4, 2014) Compassion & Choices issued the following statement in response to a Vatican official’s condemnation of Brittany Maynard for choosing to die with dignity.

“Brittany Maynard was not Catholic,” said Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, a board member of Compassion & Choices. “People of faith are free to follow their own beliefs and consciences. But it is wrong to use the police power of government to impose a set of religious beliefs on people who do not share them. It is not the American way.”

“Even many Catholics disagree with the Vatican on numerous issues, ranging from birth control – to a woman’s right to choose – to end-of-life choice,” added Rev. Castuera.

For example, Rev. Castuera said the 86-year-old Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kueng, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, wrote in his memoirs:

“No person is obligated to suffer the unbearable as something sent from God. People can decide this for themselves and no priest, doctor or judge can stop them.”

 

Brittany Maynard Dies With Dignity

Death Comes Peacefully After Taking Aid-in-Dying Medication  

(Portland, OR – Nov. 2, 2014) Twenty-nine year-old Brittany Maynard’s public story of bravely enduring brain cancer touched the hearts of millions of Americans. She died peacefully on Saturday, Nov. 1 in her Portland home, surrounded by family and friends.

Brittany suffered increasingly frequent and longer seizures, severe head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms. As symptoms grew more severe she chose to abbreviate the dying process by taking the aid-in-dying medication she had received months ago. This choice is authorized under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. She died as she intended – peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones.

Brittany’s family requests that the media respect their wish to mourn her loss privately. They have released an official obituary, cut and pasted below and available at www.TheBrittanyFund.org. It is also posted below.

“Brittany has died, but her love of life and nature, her passion and spirit endure,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee. “In Brittany’s memory, do what matters most. And tell those you love how much they matter to you. We will work to carry on her legacy of bringing end-of-life choice to all Americans.”

Brittany’s Obituary

“One Day Your Life Will Flash Before Your Eyes, Make Sure it’s Worth Watching”

Brittany Lauren Maynard was born in 1984 and forged a brief but solid 29 years of generosity, compassion, education, travel, and humor. She happily met her husband Daniel Diaz in April of 2007 and they married, as best friends, 5 years later in September of 2012.

This past year, on New Year’s Day, Brittany was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was given a terminal diagnosis for which there was no cure or life saving measures available. In the face of such terminal illness and pain, Brittany chose to live each day fully, traveled, and kept as physically active and busy as she possibly could.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”- Theodore Roosevelt. A formula to live by, sick or well.

After being told by one doctor that “she probably didn’t even have weeks to be on her feet,” she was found climbing 10 mile trails along the ice fields of Alaska with her best friend in the sunshine months later. “Speak your own truth, even when your voice shakes.” she would say.

Brittany graduated from UC Berkeley as an undergrad, and received a Masters in Education from UC Irvine. She believed in compassion, equity, and that people would remember most how you made them feel in life. As Faulkner said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If more people all over the world would do this, the world would change.”

She was an accomplished and adventuresome traveler who spent many months living solo and teaching in orphanages in Kathmandu, Nepal. That single experience forever changed her life and perspective on childhood, happiness, privilege and outcomes. She fell in love with her time in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Thailand. She spent a summer working in Costa Rica, and traveled to Tanzania, and summited Kilimanjaro with a girlfriend a month before her wedding. She took ice climbing courses on Cayambe and Cotopaxi in Ecuador and was an avid scuba diver, who relished her time in the Galapagos, Zanzibar, Caymans and pretty much any island she ever visited.

She loved her two dogs like family, a small Beagle and large Great Dane, and was always the one to take in lost dogs and find them homes. Brittany was a regular volunteer at a local animal rescue organization before her diagnosis.

Brittany chose to make a well thought out and informed choice to Die With Dignity in the face of such a terrible, painful, and incurable illness. She moved to Oregon to pass away in a little yellow house she picked out in the beautiful city of Portland. Oregon is a place that strives to protect patient rights and autonomy; she wished that her home State of California had also been able to provide terminally ill patients with the same choice. Brittany chose to speak out and advocate for this patient right and option, which she felt is an informed choice that should be made available to all terminally ill patients across our great nation. “The freedom is in the choice,” she believed. “If the option of DWD is unappealing to anyone for any reason, they can simply choose not to avail themselves of it. Those very real protections are already in place.” With great consideration, she gave personal interviews to the UK’s Tonight Show prior to Death with Dignity being addressed by their Parliament, as well as participated in an American based campaign for Death With Dignity education and legislation.

She is survived by her faithful, practical, and kind husband Daniel Diaz, her loving self-less mother Deborah Ziegler and honorable step-father Gary Holmes. And by Dan’s loving supportive family, parents: Carmen and Barry and brothers: David, Adrian, and Alex. All of whom she adored and loved very deeply. While she had longed for children of her own, she left this world with zero regrets on time spent, places been, or people she loved in her 29 years.

In this final message, she wanted to express a note of deep thanks to all her beautiful, smart, wonderful, supportive friends whom she “sought out like water” during her life and illness for insight, support, and the shared experience of a beautiful life.

“It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest. If we change our thoughts, we change our world! Love and peace to you all.” – Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard Releases New Video in Campaign to Authorize Death With Dignity in California, Nationwide

She Discusses Her Declining Health But Reserves Right Not to Take Life-Ending Medication

(Portland, OR – Oct. 30, 2014) Terminally ill 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has released a new video as part of her joint campaign with Compassion & Choices to expand access to death with dignity in California and other states nationwide. The video is available at http://www.thebrittanyfund.org/.

Brittany has an aggressive, fatal form of brain cancer, diagnosed on New Year’s Day. She and her family took on the incredibly difficult task of moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Portland, Oregon, to access Oregon’s death-with-dignity law authorizing the medical practice of aid in dying. This medical practice offers terminally ill, mentally competent adults the option to request a prescription for medication they can take to end their dying process if it becomes unbearable.

Nearly nine million have watched her first video since it was posted on YouTube Oct. 6. And 3.5 million people have visited the campaign website to help expand access to death with dignity in Brittany’s name at www.thebrittanyfund.org.

“Brittany is a teacher by training, and now she is teaching the world that everyone deserves the opportunity to die with dignity. She is changing hearts and minds on an unprecedented scale on this basic human-rights issue,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, who recently met with Brittany and her family. An attorney, who was an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant for 25 years, Coombs Lee coauthored the law Brittany is accessing.

On New Year’s Day, after months of suffering through severe headaches, Brittany learned she had brain cancer. Three months later, after undergoing surgery, she found her brain tumor had grown massively. That is when physicians told her she would likely die within months. Brittany has had her life-ending medication since shortly after that. She tentatively planned to take the medication in early November, but she has made it clear that timing depends entirely on how rapidly her cancer progresses and the severity of her symptoms.

“If November 2 comes along and I’ve passed, I hope my family is still proud of me and the choices I made,” says Brittany in the new video at www.thebrittanyfund.org. “And if November 2 comes along and I’m still alive, I know that we’ll just still be moving forward as a family out of love for each other and that that decision will come later.

“It sounds so cliché: “We take things one day at a time,” but it’s like, that’s the only way to get through this,” says Brittany’s husband, Dan Diaz, in the video. “You take away all of the material stuff, all the nonsense that we all seem to latch onto as a society, and you realize that those moments are really what matter.”

“The worst thing that could happen to me is that I wait too long … My most terrifying set of seizures was about a week or so ago,” Brittany says in the video, which was recorded Oct. 13-14. “I remember looking at my husband’s face at one point and thinking, ‘I know this is my husband, but I can’t say his name,’ and ended up going to the hospital.”

“It’s not my job to tell her how to live, and it’s not my job to tell her how to die,” says Brittany’s mom, Debbie Ziegler, in the video. “It’s my job to love her through it.”

“Well if all my dreams came true I would somehow survive this, but I mostly likely won’t,” Brittany says in the video. “So beyond that, having been an only child for my mother, I want her to recover from this and not break down, you know, not suffer from any kind of depression. My husband is such a lovely man, I want him to – you know I understand everyone needs to grieve ­– but I want him to be happy, so I want him to have a family.”

“My goal of course is to influence this policy for positive change, and I would like to see all Americans have access to the same healthcare rights,” Brittany concludes in the video. “But beyond that public policy goal, my goals really are quite simple, and they mostly do boil down to my family and friends, and making sure they all know how important they are to me and how much I love them.”

In addition to Oregon, aid in dying is authorized in Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. Compassion & Choices has campaigns to authorize this medical practice in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.