Brittany Lauren Maynard (November 19, 1984 – November 1, 2014) was an American woman with terminal brain cancer who decided that she would end her own life “when the time seemed right.” She was an advocate for the legalization of aid in dying.
Maynard was born in Anaheim, California, on November 19, 1984. Maynard graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2006 from the College of Letters and Science and the University of California, Irvine School of Education in 2010 with a master’s degree in education.
Interested in international travel since high school, Maynard taught at orphanages in Kathmandu, Nepal and traveled also to Vietnam, Cambodia, and other Southeast Asian countries.
On January 1, 2014, she was diagnosed with grade 2 astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer, and had a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of her temporal lobe. The cancer returned in April 2014, and her diagnosis was then elevated to grade 4 astrocytoma, also known as glioblastoma, with a prognosis of six months to live.
She moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law, saying she had decided that “death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.”
She partnered with Compassion & Choices to create the Brittany Maynard Fund, which seeks to legalize aid in dying in states where it is now illegal. She also wrote a piece for CNN titled “My Right to Death with Dignity at 29”.
On October 29, 2014, she stated that “it doesn’t seem like the right time right now” but that she would still end her own life at some future point. Maynard planned to end her life on November 1, 2014, with drugs prescribed by her doctor.
Maynard married Daniel Esteban “Dan” Diaz in September 2012. In October 2014 she claimed to have checked the last item on her bucket list off by visiting the Grand Canyon. Aside from her husband, she was survived by her mother, Deborah Ziegler, and her stepfather, Gary Holmes.
It was reported on November 2, 2014, by People and various other media sources that Maynard had ended her life on November 1 surrounded by her loved ones. In accordance to Oregon state law regarding death with dignity, despite Maynard’s having taken her own life a brain tumor is the official cause of death on her death certificate.
Maynard wrote in her final Facebook post: “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.”
When Maynard died, she had outlived her doctor’s April 2014 prognosis that she had had six months to live. Thus, controversy underscores her death and questions have been raised as to the reliability of doctors’ prognoses on patient life expectancy.
In the weeks leading up to her death, Maynard was said to have become the face of the United States right-to-die debate, commanding public attention, with over 16 million unique visitors reading her story on People.com.
Arthur Caplan, of New York University’s Division of Medical ethics, wrote that because Maynard was “young, vivacious, attractive … and a very different kind of person” from the average patient seeking physician-assisted dying—then averaging age 71 in Oregon—she “changed the optics of the debate” and got people in her generation interested in the issue.
Marcia Angell, the former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote that Maynard was a “new face” of the assisted dying movement who had “greatly helped future patients who want the same choice.” However, several terminally ill individuals publicly criticized Maynard’s promotion of assisted suicide.
Terminal cancer patients Kara Tippetts and Maggie Karner both sent letters to Maynard asking her to reconsider.
Within three days after Maynard’s death, a top Vatican official condemned her decision to die, noting that, “Suicide is not a good thing. It is a bad thing because it is saying no to life and to everything it means with respect to our mission in the world and toward those around us.”
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) claimed that Maynard’s chosen non-profit, Compassion & Choices had “exploited the illness of Brittany Maynard to promote legalization of doctor prescribed suicide in the states.”
Brittany’s mother defended her daughter’s decision via a letter released by Compassion & Choices, stating “My twenty-nine-year-old daughter’s choice to die gently rather than suffer physical and mental degradation and intense pain does not deserve to be labelled as reprehensible by strangers a continent away who do not know her or the particulars of her situation.”
At the time of Maynard’s death, only three states had death-with-dignity laws, with two others having court rulings protecting physicians who help patients die, and bills having been introduced in seven other states.
Polls have found the American public divided on the introduction of such laws. Maynard’s activism has been a strong focus of Connecticut’s proposed aid in dying legislation.
Maynard’s family have played video testimony that she recorded for proposed legislative change in her home state of California. On September 11, 2015, California lawmakers gave final approval to Senate Bill (SB 128) End of Life Option Act.
A modified version of the bill, ABx2 15, was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 5, 2015.Because the bill was passed during a special session, it will not take effect until three months after that session ends, which could be as late as fall 2016.