Colorado was a special place for Brittany Maynard.
She and her husband, Dan Diaz, vacationed there just months before she was diagnosed with brain cancer and she longed for them to live there someday.
“On several occasions (before she got sick) she’d said, ‘Dan, let’s find a way to move to Colorado. Is there a chance you can get transferred?’ ” Diaz tells PEOPLE.
So he knows she would have been overjoyed that on November 8 the state became the sixth in the nation to make medical aid in dying legal after a ballot initiative on the issue, Proposition 106, passed 65 to 35 percent.
“I know this win in Colorado would be especially meaningful for Brittany just because she loved the state that much,” Diaz, 45, tells PEOPLE. “It was one of her favorite places. She loved the outdoors.
“We’d taken a vacation to Colorado in October or November of 2013, not long before she was diagnosed,” he says. “It was Brittany and I and two of her friends in Boulder. We rented a house and spent a lot of time there. We went on a bunch of hikes and trails Brittany found.”
“We knew going into this election that, if people understood the measure –what it does, what it doesn’t do – they would support it,” Holly Armstrong, spokeswoman for Yes, tells PEOPLE. “Educating people through a deeply personal story like Brittany’s was critically important to help illustrate Proposition 106 and what it could mean for people and families in Colorado.”
She says they spent millions on the ad, much of it donated by the Compassion & Choices Action Fund, the end-of-life choice group Maynard partnered with before her death.
Opponents of the measure, including the Archdiocese of Denver and Colorado Christian University, spent big bucks as well and warned of the new law’s consequences.
“We know from adult protective services statistics that 1 in 10 Colorado elders are abused by family members and caretakers,” Carrie Ann Lucas, executive director of Disabled Parents Rights. “We know ….insurance companies are motivated to offer suicide as a so-called treatment, rather than more expensive treatments that extend and improve quality of life… With the legalization of assisted suicide Colorado lives will be lost through mistakes, abuse and coercion.”
Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January 2014. She and her family moved to Oregon later that year so she could access the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which allowed her to end her own life with medication prescribed to her by her doctor. During the last weeks of her life she became the public face of the controversial right-to-die movement after launching an online video campaign with Compassion & Choices, and end-of-life choice advocacy group.
Since then, Diaz has continued the fight. He quit his full-time job in the summer of 2015 and became a paid consultant for Compassion & Choices, traveling across the country testifying in support of the legislation in various states and meeting with lawmakers.
After the Colorado legislature failed to pass the legislation, they gathered enough signatures to get an aid-in-dying initiative (Proposition 106) on the ballot.
Diaz still recalls what one Colorado state senator told him about why he could not publicly support the legislation.
“He shared with me that he was personally in favor of this legislation and that in fact he’d had a conversation with his wife and each agreed they were in favor of it,” he says. “He told me, ‘I’m fully on board with this but I can’t vote for this because of my caucus.’ I was a little shocked that he would do that for his party instead of doing what the people he represented wanted.”
So he takes a certain amount of personal satisfaction that the citizens of Colorado got to decide for themselves.
“Coloradans made their voices heard,” he says. “Hopefully the elected officials will be reminded that their responsibility lies with the people they represent, not with the political agenda of their own party.”
Diaz will next be focusing his attention on Washington, D.C., where he’s already spent some time. Just this week, the D.C. Council passed the right-to-die bill 11-2 and it is headed to the mayor for her signature. After that, it heads to Congress for review.
Diaz will continue to share Maynard’s story and is energized even more now by the victory in Colorado — and by the words of that Colorado state senator.
“Moments like that give me a bit more motivation to continue to work on moving this legislation forward,” he says, “because that individual, that senator, should not be the roadblock to any of the people he represents from having this choice.”