Brittany Maynard had been married for only a year when she was diagnosed in January with brain cancer. Her doctors at first thought she might live for ten years, but in April determined that her cancer was much more aggressive than they initially thought. Her cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, leaves patients with a life expectancy of just 14 months.
The 29-year-old Maynard decided she didn’t wish to experience the slow, painful death that her cancer would bring. She and her husband moved from Northern California to Oregon, one of three states with “Death with Dignity” laws – Oregon, Washington, and Vermont – that allow terminally ill people to self-administer prescribed drugs to end their lives. (New Mexico and Montana permit assisted suicide due to court rulings.)
Since then, Maynard has become the face of the Death with Dignity movement. She posted a You Tube video that has been viewed more than 8 million times, in which she explained her decision to die on November 1, two days after her husband’s birthday.
“I don’t want to die,” Maynard said. But she is now suffering from “bone-splitting” headaches, seizures and “moments when I’m looking at my husband’s face and I can’t think of his name.”
Maynard isn’t the first person in America to choose to take her own life under the law; Oregon’s law was passed by voters in 1994 and reaffirmed in 1997. She also isn’t the first person to make this a national issue, but her youth, compelling story and vibrant personality make Maynard an attractive face for this movement.