Remembering Brittany Maynard’s brave last days

Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill 29-year-old Oregon woman who publicly re-ignited the controversial right-to-die debate, ended her life on Saturday. Her final message to the public came through a heartfelt Facebook message:

“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”

Maynard was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, a stage four gliobastoma, last January, and soon after moved to Oregon with her husband and family in order to take advantage of the state’s assisted suicide law allowing patients with fatal illnesses to die using the help of lethal drugs prescribed by a doctor.

“My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that’s out of my control,” Maynard said in an interview with People Magazine. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”

Maynard’s voice in the right-to-die debate has led to a resurgence of the national conversation and provided a new face to the ongoing debate about the ethicacy of physician-assisted-suicide or the right to die. Her decision to take her own life under the state’s statutes made national headlines putting the controversial debate back into the national spotlight after two decades of near dormancy and kicking up controversy from groups opposed to the Death with Dignity laws in Oregon and two other states. It also brought the debate to America’s youth: Maynard was young, she was newly married, and trying for a family. Time Magazine described her as, “a young, sunny, schoolteacher who should have had far more of life ahead of her than behind.”

Maynard used her final months and days working as a national spokesman for the law and becoming public face for the pro-side of the debate. A video she uploaded that details her disease and decision has been viewed nearly 10 million times, and in early October she began an online video campaign for Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates for terminally ill patients right to die. Though she faced sharp criticism, in addition to warm support, Maynard remained a staunch advocate for the law.

In her final days, Maynard fulfilled some lifelong dreams. She traveled with family and friends and on October 21 took a helicopter ride with her family to visit the Grand Canyon. She spent time with her husband, who turned 30 just a few days before she ended her life. She also spoke publicly about reserving the right to push back the date she planned to die, should she choose to do so.

As Maynard wrote in an op-ed earlier this year, “I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”

(Images via: NBC, 9News)