Brittany Maynard garnered national attention when she and her husband packed their belongings into a U-Haul and drove 600 miles north from California to Oregon so she could take advantage of the state’s right-to-die law and die peacefully.
Since Maynard’d death on Nov. 1, 2014 at age 29, her husband Dan Diaz has helped push for the passage of a right-to-die law in their home state of California – as well as similar legislation in Hawaii, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
But, on Tuesday, Diaz was drawn back into a the fight he thought he already won. A Riverside County judge overturned California’s right-to-die law because of a legislative technicality. The California Attorney General has vowed to appeal the ruling.
“They’re trying to take away the option of a terminally ill person, like my wife was, to have a peaceful dying process instead of what, in her case, was a brain tumor that would have tortured her to death,” Diaz told TIME on Wednesday.
Signed into law in 2015, California’s End of Life Option Act went into effect in June 2016. Within six months, 191 terminally ill people requested medication to end their lives, according to state data; 111 died as a result of the prescribed drugs.
Before her death, Maynard made a video in which she advocated for legislation like California’s End of Life Option Act. And her husband, Diaz, has pushed for the cause in states around the country ever since.
“The hope is that you don’t need to utilize the medication,” Diaz said.
“But there are certain cases,” he added, “where these terminally ill individuals are facing a brutal dying process. Just having that option has a lot of relief.”
Opponents of the law filed a lawsuit claiming it was unconstitutional. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia overturned the law on procedural grounds in a ruling Tuesday, taking issue with how the state passed the legislation during a special session focused on healthcare issues. Life Legal Defense Foundation and the American Academy of Medical Ethics – both of which have affiliations with religious groups – led the way in challenging the law.
“The court made it clear that assisted suicide has nothing to do with increasing access to health care and that hijacking the special session to advance an unrelated agenda is impermissible,” said Alexandra Snyder, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday.
Opponents have also taken issue with the legislation for not requiring a psychological evaluation of patients before they request lethal medication. They also claim the law promotes the wrong message for terminally ill patients who, despite the law’s strict requirements, may be enticed to request the life-ending drugs rather than continue treatment.
The ruling Tuesday won’t go into effect for four more days, during which California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra can file an appeal. “We strongly disagree with this ruling and the State is seeking expedited review in the Court of Appeal,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
Diaz, however, said he feels newly energized to push for legislation in California and elsewhere. He honors his wife by continuing to advocate for aid in dying legislation for terminally ill patients, he said.
“She knew she had this option that the brain tumor could not defeat,” Diaz said. “If the suffering is to a point where, with all medical intervention they’re not able to keep her from suffering, like I said, she has the ability to pass away gently.”
If Maynard continued to live with her terminal illness, she likely would have gone blind and lost her ability to speak. “Brittany was simply saying, ‘I will not die that way, and I shouldn’t be forced to,’” he said.
Her story incited more awareness for the Death With Dignity movement, which began in Oregon when a group of physicians helped pass the first statewide law that allowed for terminally ill patients to request drugs to end their lives.
The legislation in California features a number of requirements terminally ill patients must meet to the satisfaction of two separate physicians. The patient must have a diagnosis of death in less than six months, and must voluntarily request the lethal drugs themselves, among other stipulations.
While the overturning of the California law disappointed Diaz, he said he is optimistic more states will enact legislation moving forward. And with the likely appeal from the state attorney general, his fight for California’s medicine aid in dying legislation is not over.
“This truly is an option,” he said. “If a person has decided on their own to apply for and qualify for the prescription, then you get to focus on living life.”