Brittany Maynard, advocate for the terminally ill, has ended her life 'with dignity'

  • Family
  • Monday, 03 Nov 2014

A young American woman with brain cancer, who became an advocate for terminally ill patients who want to end their own lives, has died using Oregon's doctor-assisted suicide law. 

Brittany Maynard, 29, triggered shock and controversy over the right to die when a video of her making her suicide promise went viral in October and was seen by millions of web users.

"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," she wrote in a message circulated widely on social media. 

"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!" 

Sean Crowley, spokesman for Compassion & Choices, an Oregon-based activist group that supported Maynard through her end of life, said she died peacefully in her home on Nov 1. Maynard "passed peacefully in her bed surrounded by close family and loved ones", according to a statement posted on Facebook by the non-profit group.

"Brittany has died, but her love of life and nature, her passion and spirit endure," the organisation's president, Barbara Coombs Lee, added. "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."

This 2013 photo obtained Oct 30, 2014, courtesy of Compassion & Choices and shows Maynard and her Great Dane puppy Charlie. – AFP/Compassion & Choices/ 

In January, Maynard was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour and was given six months to live. She was told her death would be painful because of the aggressive nature of her cancer. Maynard said she planned to take prescribed medication to die when her pain became unbearable.

She had been trying for a first child with her husband, Dan Diaz, at the time but gave up due to her disease. Maynard and Diaz, who had just married when she began having severe headaches, moved from their San Francisco Bay home to Oregon, one of a handful of US states with a "right-to-die" law. 

Oregon's 'Death With Dignity Act' allows terminally ill residents to end their lives with the assistance of a physician. A doctor could therefore prescribe her the medication she needs to end her own life, surrounded by her family in the bedroom she shares with her husband. Four US states beside Oregon allow assisted suicide.

On Thursday Oct 30, she had released a new video in which she said she might temporarily delay her appointment with a self-administered cocktail of potentially deadly drugs. But the delay was a short one.

Her story has made headlines around the world, and she was featured on the cover of last week's People magazine in the US. Maynard, who has stressed that her decision to end her life was her own, had told People that she had picked Nov 1 as the day she planned to die.

Maynard has in recent weeks and months been working to tick off items on a "bucket list" of what she wants to do before she dies – including travelling to the Grand Canyon last week. 

Messages of support poured into social media upon word of her passing. "Thank you for paving the way for the future of death with dignity. You were a bright vibrant light in the world and you forever left your mark. Prayers for all family and friends," one user wrote.

But opponents of assisted suicide say some people who are ill, especially among the elderly, might be unduly influenced by people close to them to end their lives and that other ways exist to ease the suffering of the terminally ill.

"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," Maynard wrote in her own obituary. – AFP; Reuters 

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