Right to Die Legalized in California Following Campaign Inspired by Brittany Maynard
"I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," Gov. Brown said in his signing message to lawmakers
While he said he consulted with Maynard’s family, his own doctors, a Catholic bishop, advocates for the disabled, Archbishop Desmond Tutu – and even spoke to Maynard herself before she died – in the end it was a deeply personal decision of his own.
“I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown wrote in his signing message to lawmakers. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn t deny that right to others.”
Brown’s actions were a huge victory for the end-of-life choice group Compassion & Choices, which partnered with Maynard and had been trying to get legislation passed in the state since 1991.
Tim Rosales, a spokesman for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, which actively opposed the bill, said the group is considering all of its option.
“This is a dark day for California and for the Brown Administration,” he said in a statement. “Governor Brown was clear in his statement that this was based on his personal background the Governor’s background is very different than that of millions of Californians living in healthcare poverty without that same access – these are the people and families potentially hurt by giving doctors the power to prescribe lethal overdoses to patients.”
Maynard, 29, lived in Alamo, California with her husband, Dan Diaz, but had to move to Portland, Oregon to access its Death with Dignity Act after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2014.
“The amount of sacrifice and change my family had to go through in order to get me to legal access to Death with Dignity – changing our residency, establishing a team of doctors, having a place to live – was profound,” she told PEOPLE in an exclusive interview that ran last October 6.
“There’s tons of Americans who don t have time or the ability or finances,” she says, “and I don’t think that’s right or fair.”
She quickly became the face of the controversial right-to-die movement. Before she ended her own life on Nov. 1 – with medication prescribed to her by her doctor – she asked her husband and mother, Debbie Ziegler, to continue to fight for the law after her death – starting with her home state of California.
They both kept their promise to her – often carrying photos of Maynard to press conferences and rallies.
“I feel a huge sense of gratitude to the governor,” Diaz, 43, tells PEOPLE. “In the end he came to the same realization as Brittany that, yeah only Brittany can make that decision for herself.”
Ziegler says she “began to tremble with a lot of emotions” when she found out Brown signed the bill.
“When I read Governor Brown s letter I felt an overwhelming desire to hug the man s neck,” she tells PEOPLE. “I m grateful for everyone who worked so hard to have this law come to fruition. My heart is full of love. Go Brittany!
Inspired by Maynard, terminally ill single mom Christy O’Donnell, who has Stage 4 lung cancer that has spread to her brain, spine, rib and liver, became a fierce advocate for the right-to-die legislation.
“I knew it was going to happen I just didn’t know it would happen in my lifetime,” O’Donnell, 47, tells PEOPLE. “And for me after this long journey of advocating so strongly for this to be able to share it with [my daughter] Bailey that really is the most meaningful thing for me.
“I am completely fatigued but for once I’m fatigued from joy and not from pain from the cancer,” she says.
California is the fifth state to allow terminally ill people to legally end their own lives. It goes into effect January 1, according to Compassion & Choices.