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As Planned, Right-To-Die Advocate Brittany Maynard Ends Her Life

Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor, went through with her plan to end her life on Saturday at her home in Oregon.

Maynard, who spoke publicly about her choice to end her life, revived the debate of assisted suicide in the United States.

In an obituary posted to her site on Sunday night, Maynard is said to have had a "brief but solid 29 years." This past year, she was diagnosed with a stage 4 malignant brain tumor.

In an op ed on CNN, Maynard wrote that the treatment options would have "destroyed the time I had left."

She concluded:

"Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time even though cancer is eating my mind. I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months. And my family would have had to watch that.

"I did not want this nightmare scenario for my family, so I started researching death with dignity. It is an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It would enable me to use the medical practice of aid in dying: I could request and receive a prescription from a physician for medication that I could self-ingest to end my dying process if it becomes unbearable.

"I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family."

Her obit describes what happened next:

"She moved to Oregon to pass away in a little yellow house she picked out in the beautiful city of Portland. Oregon is a place that strives to protect patient rights and autonomy; she wished that her home State of California had also been able to provide terminally ill patients with the same choice. Brittany chose to speak out and advocate for this patient right and option, which she felt is an informed choice that should be made available to all terminally ill patients across our great nation. "The freedom is in the choice," she believed. "If the option of DWD is unappealing to anyone for any reason, they can simply choose not to avail themselves of it. Those very real protections are already in place." With great consideration, she gave personal interviews to the UK's Tonight Show prior to Death with Dignity being addressed by their Parliament, as well as participated in an American based campaign for Death With Dignity education and legislation."

On Saturday, like planned, Maynard ended her life.

The big question that her death leaves open, however, is whether the debate she inspired will lead to changes in how Americans feel about assisted suicide.

Art Caplan, of the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, wrote that Maynard's case doesn't really present any new, material facts to the assisted suicide debate.

But Maynard was different, however, in one crucial way. Caplan writes: "Brittany Maynard, because she's young, vivacious, attractive, a newlywed, has a dog, and is a very different kind of person from the average middle-aged or older person who has to confront issues about terminal illness, changes the optics of the debate. Now we have a young woman getting people in her generation interested in the issue."

In Caplan's mind, Maynard's death will push the issue into state legislatures and onto ballots.

But this is a complicated topic. As The Washington Post reports, just as she had support for her decision, there were others who tried to persuade her to live:

"Ira Byock, chief medical officer of the Institute for Human Caring of Providence Health and Services, spoke loudly against the practice.

"'When doctor-induced death becomes an accepted response to the suffering of dying people, logical extensions grease the slippery slope,' he wrote in a New York Times op-ed. He cited statistics in Holland, where the practice is permitted, that claim more than 40 people sought and received doctor-assisted death for depression and other mental disorders. 'Even the psychiatrist who began this practice in the 90′s recently declared the situation had gone "off the rails."

"'Moral outrage is appropriate and needed to fix the sorry state of dying in America. Legalizing assisted suicide fixes nothing. The principle that doctors must not kill patients stands.'"

Maynard is survived by her husband, Daniel Diaz; her mother, Deborah Ziegler; and her step-father, Gary Holmes.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.