As Brittany Maynard—the young UC Berkeley alum whose response to terminal brain cancer ignited a national debate—carried our her plan to end her life on Nov 1, she left behind a message that “it is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest. If we change our thoughts, we change the world! Love and peace to you all.”
In a public message on the website of The Brittany Maynard Fund, she also thanked supportive friends whom she “sought out like water” during her life and her illness.
Maynard had relocated from the Bay Area with her husband and mother, and her beagle and Great Dane, to a little yellow house in Portland so she could avail herself of Oregon’s landmark Death with Dignity Law. She chose to die surrounded by family, swallowing a lethal dose of prescribed medication as she had planned to do when her suffering became too great to bear.
After earning her bachelor’s in psychology from UC Berkeley and a master’s from UC Irvine she met the love of her life, Dan Diaz, through Match.com. The couple had celebrated their first anniversary shortly before Brittany learned of her cancer. Her life ended just before her 30th birthday, but after she fulfilled her wishes to celebrate her husband’s birthday and visit the Grand Canyon.
She regretted that her home state of California and all but four other states have refused to follow Oregon’s lead in allowing physicians to prescribe medication for patients who wish to end their lives and are deemed mentally competent to make such a choice. In recent weeks, she granted interviews to a few national media outlets to advocate for “Death with Dignity” legislation elsewhere. Her story captivated the country and was circulated around the world.
In the ten months following the stunning diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor— surgery failed to arrest the cancer, which ultimately became incurable glioblastoma—Maynard committed herself to living life to the fullest. Her family noted that months after a doctor told her she would probably only be able to be on her feet for weeks, she was hiking 10-mile trails along Alaskan ice fields with her best friend.
But the exuberant travel photos belied the reality of increasing pain: excruciating headaches and seizures.
The foundation that bears her name is an initiative of the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, which vows to continue advocating for “aid in dying” to become “an open, legitimate option recognized throughout the medical field and permitted in more states.” In choosing to go public with her choice, Brittany Maynard drew widespread support, but also criticism from those who have moral qualms about aiding those wanting to end their lives.
Maynard insisted that she knew exactly what she was doing, and should have the ultimate control over the way she died. An obituary on her foundation’s website quoted her as saying “Speak your own truth, even when your voice shakes.”