Brittany Maynard carries a prescription in her wallet. It was written by a doctor in Oregon, one of five states with legal protections for terminally ill patients who want to end their suffering. And in three weeks, she plans to use it to die.
Maynard has chosen to die Nov. 1 in her bedroom in Portland, Ore., surrounded by family — her mother and stepfather, her husband and her best friend, who is a physician. She said she wanted to wait until after her husband's birthday, which is Oct. 30. But she is getting sicker, experiencing more pain and seizures, she told People in an exclusive interview.
"I've had the medication for weeks," she wrote in a column for CNN. "I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms."
On New Year's Day, Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Nine days later, doctors performed a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of her temporal lobe to keep her tumor from growing. She was given up to 10 years to live. Then in April, doctors learned that the tumor had returned. Her initial diagnosis was elevated to a stage 4 glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. And the prognosis was grave — only six more months.
Maynard qualified for physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, one of a handful of states that permits it under its Death with Dignity Act. Since it was enacted in 1997, 1,173 people in the state have had prescriptions written for lethal medications. Only 752 of them have used the drugs to die as of 2013. Four other states — Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington — have similar laws.
Maynard was living in San Francisco with her husband, Dan Diaz, 42, when she began having debilitating headaches and soon learned the cause: brain cancer. Doctors explained her options, none of which would save her life.
"Doctors prescribed full brain radiation," she wrote in the column. "I read about the side effects: The hair on my scalp would have been singed off. My scalp would be left covered with first-degree burns. My quality of life, as I knew it, would be gone."
"After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion," she wrote. "There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left."
That's when Maynard chose doctor-assisted death. But California, like most states, does not have a law that allows terminally ill patients to end their lives. So earlier this year, she and her family relocated to Oregon.
Maynard had to find new physicians and a new home. She had to change her driver's license and voter registration. Her husband had to take a leave of absence from work.
"The amount of sacrifice and change my family had to go through in order to get me to legal access to death with dignity — changing our residency, establishing a team of doctors, having a place to live — was profound," she told People. "There's tons of Americans who don't have time or the ability or finances and I don't think that's right or fair."
Maynard is using her last days to help for others in similar situations, volunteering for Compassion & Choices, an advocacy organization for terminally ill patients in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey. She has launched the Brittany Maynard Fund to fight for death-with-dignity laws in other states.
Some opponents of physician-assisted suicide have cited moral and religions concerns. Others worry that patients who are depressed will use such laws to end their mental anguish, among other things. In a poll conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine last year, about 67 percent of the 1,712 medical experts surveyed in the United States were against the practice.
Maynard has the option to change her mind, she doesn't think she will.
"Now, I'm able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love," she wrote. "And I know that I have a safety net."
Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for the Washington Post.
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