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Brittany Maynard chooses ‘Death with Dignity’ at age 29

Brittany Maynard, who is terminally ill, moved from California to Portland, Ore., to take advantage of Oregon's “Death with Dignity” Act, which was established in the 1990s.
Brittany Maynard, who is terminally ill, moved from California to Portland, Ore., to take advantage of Oregon's “Death with Dignity” Act, which was established in the 1990s. (AP via the Maynard family)

Brittany Maynard intends to die shortly after her husband’s birthday at the end of October. On the day of her choosing, she is electing to take prescribed medication that will end her life.

Maynard, a 29-year-old California native, was diagnosed in April with glioblastoma multiforme — fatal stage 4 brain cancer — and given six months to live.

Maynard made a decision. She chose to move with her family from the San Francisco Bay area to Portland, Ore., because of Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” act, she explains in an article she wrote for CNN as well as in an online video she filmed to raise awareness about the law.

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When Maynard was first diagnosed with brain cancer on New Year’s Day, she was told it was grade 2. She describes undergoing surgery, believing that she would have up to 10 years left with that diagnosis. But in a matter of three months, the tumor grew significantly, leading to her final prognosis.

Maynard has launched a campaign to advocate for the need to expand “Death with Dignity” laws nationwide. In 2012, a proposed “Death with Dignity” act in Massachusetts was narrowly defeated.

In Maynard’s video, she talks about her journey and her decision to take her own life.

‘‘Right when I was diagnosed, my husband and I were actively trying for a family, which is heartbreaking for us both,’’ says Maynard in the video.

‘‘That was a major shock to my system and the system of my family,” she says. “They just wanted to search for a miracle.’’

‘‘In the beginning I hoped for everything,’’ Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, says. ‘‘I hoped that they had just the wrong X-rays, the wrong set of scans; it was all just a big clerical mishap. Your brain will do really strange things to you when you don’t want to believe something. You will come up with fairy tales.’’

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Under the “Death with Dignity” law, terminally ill, mentally competent adults diagnosed with six months or less to live could obtain a fatal prescription that they would administer themselves.

Maynard, a newlywed who first began experiencing debilitating headaches soon after she was married, decided to pursue the aid-in-dying option after researching hospice and palliative care in California.

‘‘Between suffering or being allowed to decide when enough is enough ... it provides a lot of relief and comfort that, OK, that option is there if and when we decide, or she decides, that it’s time,’’ says Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, in the video.

“I can’t even tell you the amount of relief that it provides me to know that I don’t have to die the way that it’s been described to me, that my brain tumor would take me on its own,’’ Maynard says. ‘‘I hope to enjoy however many days I have on this beautiful Earth and spend as much of it outside as I can surrounded by those I love. I hope to pass in peace.’’

Maynard, described by her mother as having an adventurous spirit, says she intends to travel as much as she can, hopefully making it to the Grand Canyon because she’s never been.

She plans to celebrate with her husband on his birthday.

On her final day — the day she chooses to ingest the lethal drug — she will be in the bedroom she shares with her husband, with music she likes playing, surrounded by Diaz, her mother and stepfather, and her best friend, who’s also a physician, she says.

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“Death with Dignity” is legal in Washington, Montana, Vermont, New Mexico, and Oregon.

More coverage:

4/29/2012: Should people have the right to die?

How the Death with Dignity Act works

Simon Waxman: A fundamental right to be able to die in peace

11/07/12: A coalition of forces beat back Question 2