Brittany Maynard's Mother: Please Help Me Carry Out My Daughter's Legacy

Debbie Ziegler, Maynard's mother, and Maynard's husband, Dan Diaz, speak at a news conference in California

Photo: Courtesy Debbie Ziegler

Three California lawmakers announced Wednesday they have introduced right-to-die legislation in that state, spurred by the dramatic and heartbreaking story of Brittany Maynard.

“Some will describe this as an assisted suicide bill and we strongly disagree with that,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, who co-authored the bill with Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk, said at an emotional news conference in Sacramento, California.

“As Brittany Maynard so eloquently said, ‘I don’t have a suicidal bone in my body,’ ” he said. “In respect for her we are naming it the ‘End-of-Life Choice Act.’ ”

Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, and husband, Dan Diaz, also spoke at the emotional press conference.

Both Diaz and Ziegler promised Maynard they would push for the passage of the law after she was gone – starting with California.

Maynard, 29, was terminally ill with brain cancer and moved to Oregon with her family last June so she could get access to that state’s Death with Dignity Act.

On Oct. 6, she launched an online video campaign with Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy group, to push for getting laws similar to Oregon’s passed in every state.

On Nov. 1, she ended her life with the sedative secobarbital prescribed to her by her doctor. Both Diaz and Ziegler said her death was peaceful and quick.

“We lived in this state and she would have preferred to pass away peacefully in this state,” said Diaz, 43. “She recognized to stay here in California would mean she would potentially face a horrific death.

“This option is something that Brittany and I thought should be available to all Californians and all people, regardless of what state they happen to reside in,” he said.

Ziegler, Maynard’s mother, fought off tears as she shared a conversation she had with her daughter during the last weeks of her life.

“We had this conversation on a rainy evening in Portland, Oregon, where we had essentially been forced to move because we could not accomplish our goals in California,” said Ziegler, 58, her voice shaking.

“That evening as we sat warm and dry and cozy we were filled with, oddly enough, love and gratitude because we knew we were where we needed to be,” she said.

“She reached for my hand and she said, ‘Mama, given the hand in life we were dealt, this is as good as it gets,’ ” said Ziegler. “And it was.”

So, “I implore the citizens of this state – contact your senators; contact your assembly members,” she said. “Stand up and make your voice heard – even if it shakes like mine. Please help me carry out my daughter’s legacy.”

The raw emotion in Ziegler’s voice even seemed to get to the politicians.

“For those of us that were galvanized by the story of Brittany Maynard and the courage of her mother and husband,” state Sen. Wolk said after Ziegler finished speaking, “We continue to be just amazed at the strength that it takes to be public and share with the public such an extraordinarily personal story.”

Another powerful speaker was Dr. Robert Olvera, whose 25-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, died of leukemia last April.

“Cancer destroyed my daughter’s brain,” he said. “I watched Emily Rose decompose in front of me. She suffered horribly as I sat next to her not being able to do anything. Seeing a daughter suffer and die slowly is torture. Any parent will tell you that.”

Once he heard about Maynard’s story in October, “they paralleled so much I felt compelled to come out here and talk,” he said. “Had we known about Oregon we would have left in a heartbeat.”

For more from Ziegler about Maynard, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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