Brittany Maynard's family promised Maynard they would push for California to pass a right-to-die bill

By Nicole Weisensee Egan
Updated October 24, 2016 06:04 PM
Credit: Courtesy Compassion & Choices

California lawmakers today reintroduced the End of Life Option Act, inspired by the late Brittany Maynard, saying it will be one of a handful of bills considered during a special session on health care this month.

Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, and mother, Debbie Ziegler, spoke at the Sacramento news conference, just as they did in January, when the legislation was first introduced.

They also mourned the passing of writer Jennifer Glass, who was by their side in January but passed away last week from advanced lung cancer.

“She died knowing the fight would continue on after her death,” said Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, who introduced the bill on Tuesday.

Diaz, 43, got choked up as he talked about visiting Glass before she died.

“On that Tuesday morning, I sat at her bedside. I saw my dear friend that I d known for seven months, unconscious and withering away,” Diaz said. “The pain that Jennifer was experiencing from the tumor, that had now spread to her brain, had become unbearable.

“So at Jennifer’s request, she had been put into terminal sedation five days earlier,” he said, fighting back tears. “Jennifer died later that night, but that was not the dying process she had wanted. Why did Jennifer Glass have to endure those five days in that manner?”

Maynard, 29, had terminal brain cancer and ended her own life with medication prescribed to her by her doctor last November. She and her family moved from California to Oregon so she could access the state’s Death with Dignity Act.

Before she died, she launched an online video campaign with Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy group.

Maynard’s mother carried a photo of her beloved daughter with her to the podium.

“I bring her picture to all of these,” Ziegler said. “I feel her presence Prior to her death in Oregon, my daughter, Brittany Maynard, filmed a video asking California legislators to look at the way terminally people are dying in this great state.

“She said no one should have to leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering and to plan for a gentle death,” she said. “It turned out that almost 74 percent of Californians agree with Brittany on this.”

Ziegler also read a statement from terminally ill single mom Christy O’Donnell, 47, who could not be there because her own mother just died of Stage IV colon cancer.

“Because mom resided in Oregon, where Death with Dignity is legal, her palliative care doctor was able to lawfully discuss ‘ALL’ of mom’s end-of-life options with us together as a family,” O’Donnell wrote. “Mom was able to ‘choose’ how she would die. She was not forced to suffer for weeks.

“In a few short months, my family will soon be facing another death – my death from Stage IV lung cancer,” she continued. “However, because I live in California, my end-of-life options are legally limited. I will not likely be able to peacefully die in my own bed with my daughter Bailey holding my hand. Because aid in dying in California is illegal. Rather, I will be forced to die painfully and in a protracted manner.”

Another powerful speaker was Elizabeth Wallner, 51, of Sacramento, who is also dying of Stage IV lung cancer.

“I’m not afraid to die,” she said through tears. “What I am afraid of is my son and family watching me struggle in pain.

“I don’t want my son’s last image to be of me struggling and in pain,” she said. “I want this option for me to be able to make a choice and die at home.”