Brittany Maynard, who had a terminal case of brain cancer,  was in the national spotlight after moving to Oregon to take advantage of its law allowing doctor-assisted suicide.
Brittany Maynard, who had a terminal case of brain cancer, was in the national spotlight after moving to Oregon to take advantage of its law allowing doctor-assisted suicide. ASSOCIATED PRESS

PORTLAND, Ore. — Brittany Maynard’s last days started a national conversation about whether it is right for terminally ill people to end their own lives.

In the days after her death, advocates for expanding right-to-die laws hope the millions of clicks and views she generated online trigger more than just talk. The advocates expect attention from her story to carry into the new year, when state legislatures go into session.

‘‘I think on both coasts we’re going to see legislative action,’’ said Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death with Dignity National Center.

This optimism will be met with the political reality that such legislation has been pushed for years, often unsuccessfully.


‘‘Suicide is never a good solution, regardless of the situation that one is confronting,’’ said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, a Catholic group.

Maynard, who was terminally ill with brain cancer, was in the national spotlight for about a month after publicizing that she and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved to Portland from Northern California so she could use Oregon’s law to end her life on her own terms.

Maynard told journalists she planned to die Nov. 1 and followed through Saturday. She was 29.

She approached the advocacy group Compassion & Choices this summer in the hope that telling her story would lead to political action in California and across the nation. Whether that happens is an open question. But Maynard succeeded in raising awareness about an issue that was trending on Facebook and Twitter after her death.

‘‘Younger people support death with dignity at really high levels, but it’s not necessarily relevant or salient to their lives,’’ Sandeen said. ‘‘I think the Brittany Maynard story makes it real.’’

The Vermont Legislature last year approved assisted suicide. Oregon and Washington did so by referendum, and it was effectively legalized through court decisions in Montana and New Mexico.


In 2012, voters in Massachusetts rejected a state ballot initiative that would have enabled terminally ill patients to ask their doctors to prescribe lethal drugs.

In New Jersey, the state Assembly considered but failed to pass an aid-in-dying bill in June. Democratic Assemblyman John Burzichelli, who sponsored the bill, said he is hopeful that it can pass the state’s lower chamber before the end of the year. If that happens, he expects the Senate to pass it soon after.

Republican Governor Chris Christie opposes the measure.

Compassion & Choice is spending about $7 million a year to protect the practice in states where it has been authorized and to pass legislation in states where it has not, said Mickey MacIntyre, the group’s chief program officer.

The group said its website has had more than 5 million new visitors over the past month, while Maynard’s two videos have been viewed more than 13 million times on YouTube alone.

‘‘The incredible number of people who have been inspired by Brittany’s story — we hope to translate that into action in moving toward legislative change in this coming session,’’ MacIntyre said.

Social conservatives have sharply criticized Maynard’s decision, and it is considered unlikely that any Republican-controlled legislatures will consider right-to-die laws.

A leader of a legislative committee that handles health issues in Wyoming said she believes there is no chance the state would enact a law allowing doctor-assisted suicide. ‘‘My sense is Wyoming would reject it out of hand,’’ said Representative Elaine Harvey.


Oregon was the first US state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient. Through June 30, just over 800 people had used the law since it took effect shortly after the November 1997 election.