I've spent almost a year without my wife, Brittany Maynard, who passed away last November. But in some sense, she has been entirely present. Last week, the California End of Life Options Bill passed the Senate Floor. That was the last hurdle the bill needed to clear in order to make its way to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature. What the bill means is that no one else will have to leave their home, like Brittany and I did, in order to secure a gentle passing should it become necessary for them.
After each of the victories that got it this far, people would seek me out in the Senate and Assembly chambers to say, “Congratulations Dan.” A few even said “You did this. You made this happen, Dan.”
While I’d like to think that I may have helped secure a couple of votes within the Senate, and maybe a couple more votes within the Assembly, I’d like to share details of what this effort really took and a few things I learned along the way.
This successful effort required the persistence and skill of the caring legislators who crafted and championed the bill as authors and co-authors: Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, Senate Majority Whip Lois Wolk and Assembly Democratic Caucus Chair Dr. Susan Talamantes Eggman. It needed the support of Latino labor leader and civil right activist Dolores Huerta, and spiritual leaders like Reverend Ignacio Castuera, Reverend Sergio Camacho and Reverend Ronald Sparks. It needed the non-profit organization Compassion & Choices and its talented employees. It benefitted immensely from the California Medical Association’s recognition that end-of-life decisions should only be made by the terminally ill individual, working with their physicians, in accordance with their own spiritual beliefs and the support of their family. And it needed the thousands of Californian volunteers to visit their legislators, write letters, and call their offices.
The bill has also required the voices and efforts of our citizens, in particular ones who are hoping to have the gentle passing the bill might provide. The people have included Jennifer Glass, a dear friend who asked at the "top of her lungs" to have this option so she could "fear less." Jennifer died on Aug. 11, but the impact she made will last forever. And Dr. Robert Olvera, a Harvard trained physician who had to watch his 25-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, struggle horribly for 17 years as she slowly died of leukemia. And Christy O’Donnell, Elizabeth Wallner, and countless other gravely or terminally ill Californians that are currently fighting for their lives.
But most of all this effort needed Brittany, who shared her story of the symptoms that she was enduring as she battled the brain tumor that was ending her life. Brittany didn’t intend to be the "face of this movement" as she was labeled. My beautiful and courageous wife simply wanted the ability to have a gentle death, just as anyone would want. She just wanted the ability to pass away without having to be in so much fear, without having to endure uncontrollable pain—or to put another way, without being tortured to death. The brain tumor was not going to allow for that, so we moved to Oregon. Brittany died gently, in her sleep, on Nov. 1 of last year.
What have I learned? The sad reality is, to those of you who are currently facing a dire health condition, or who are the family member caring for a terminally ill individual that is going through a harsh dying process, the legislative stuff is a walk in the park compared to what you’re going through now. I know what it is like to hold a person in your arms as they are dying.
I’ve learned that we have to advocate for our loved ones. We have to continue to work with the caring and compassionate medical community to keep our loved ones comfortable at the end of life.
I will continue to fulfill my promise to Brittany to advocate for this legislation, so that terminally ill individuals will have all options available to them as they continue to fight at the end of their lives. The ability to have a gentle death is a basic right.
Last, I learned that one voice truly can make a difference in this world. Brittany’s certainly did.