It’s been six years since Brittany Maynard, a right-to-die advocate with terminal cancer, made the decision to end her life. But Maynard’s profound legacy lives on.
On Sunday evening, Maynard’s widow, Dan Diaz, took to Facebook to reflect on how his late wife changed the conversation about aid in dying.
“Six years ago today, (November 1st) I held Brittany in my arms as she died, gently. Her dying process was peaceful only because she took that control back from the brain tumor,” Diaz wrote. “(Brittany would not allow the cancer’s worsening symptoms to torture her to death. She insisted on remaining her whole self, not a paralyzed suffering victim that would languish and wither away.)”
Diaz went on to praise Maynard, who fought for medical aid in dying legislation as she suffered from debilitating seizures and headaches.
“(Brittany's) advocacy for terminally ill individuals to have the option of medical aid in dying forever changed the way society views end of life care and end of life options,” Diaz wrote. “Thank you Brittany, for your determination to make a difference for the rest of us and raising your voice to demand change.”
Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit working to improve patient rights and individual choice at the end of life, wrote in a news release on Monday that Maynard inspired the passage of medical aid dying laws in Washington, D.C, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine.
Maynard first captured the nation’s attention in 2014 after she moved to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s death with dignity law that would allow her to end her life with the help of a physician.
At the time, she was battling stage 4 glioblastoma, the same fatal cancer that Senator John McCain died of in 2018. Last month, British singer Tom Parker, best known as a member of the boy band The Wanted, announced he was diagnosed with the inoperable brain tumor.
“I’m not killing myself. Cancer is killing me. I am choosing to go in a way that is less suffering and less pain,” Maynard told NBC News in October 2014. “Not everybody has to agree that it’s the right thing, because they don’t have to do it. And it’s an option that for me, has provided a lot of relief, because the way that my brain cancer would take me organically is very terrible. It’s a horrible way to die. The thought that I can spare myself the physical and emotional lengthy pain of that, as well as my family, is a huge relief."
When her selected, final day arrived, Maynard took a farewell walk with her family. Then, she returned home to die.
“The suffering and the torment and everything she had gone through, well, that was finally lifted,” Diaz told TODAY in 2015.
One month before her passing, Maynard penned an essay for TODAY.com, in which she shared parting words of advice.
“Pay attention to the relationships you cultivate in life, and do not miss the chance to tell those you love how very much you love them,” she wrote. “Seek out real meaning in your life, build from your passions, and stand up for what you truly believe in and support.”
This story was updated on November 3, 2020 to include Maine to the list of states with medical aid in dying legislation.