Brittany Maynard's family pushes right-to-die bill in California

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The family of Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill Bay Area resident who moved to Oregon so she could legally end her life, stood side-by-side with lawmakers to promote right-to-die legislation in California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The family of a terminally ill San Francisco Bay Area woman who moved to Oregon so she could exercise her right to die went to the state Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday. Brittany Maynard's husband and mother stood side-by-side with lawmakers, trying to change the law.

It was an emotional news conference. Maynard's mother, Debbie Ziegler, said her daughter did not have a suicidal bone in her body. But given a terminal diagnosis, she just wanted a say in how she died.

"Dying on one's own terms, I don't think it's something that we think about a lot until we are faced with something in our own family," said Ziegler. "It's hard to understand until it's in your life and it's in your world, how important this choice to die on your own terms becomes. But when it does happen to your family, you see that this is a basic human right."

Through her tears, the mother told reporters that her daughter desperately wanted to die at home in the Bay Area. But instead, Maynard and her family moved to Portland, Oregon, because ending one's life is not legal in California.

RAW VIDEO: Brittany Maynard's mother makes emotional plea

"We had left friends," Ziegler said. "We'd left our supportive network. And yet, Brittany and I felt appreciative of her legal right in Oregon that she could decide when enough was enough."

On Jan. 1, 2014, the 29-year-old was diagnosed with brain cancer and given six months to live.

So Maynard, along with her husband and parents, moved to Oregon, where there's a Death with Dignity Act in place. That act gave Maynard access to medication that would end her suffering on her timetable.

Oregon is one of five states where the practice is legal.

"We knew that it wasn't fair or right... That in order to get this legal right that we would have to go live there and qualify under their stringent requirements for terminally ill adults. In order to obtain the medication, we did everything; we dotted every 'i,' we crossed every 't;' we followed every single bit of the program," said Ziegler. "And when Brittany received the news that she qualified and that she was going to get the medicine, it was a moment of peace."

Maynard took her life on Nov. 1.

Now, Maynard's family is standing behind California lawmakers who authored SB 128, the "End of Life Options Act" for terminally ill adults.

"Recognizing that we had to move to Oregon, she just felt was a huge injustice," said Maynard's husband, Dan Diaz. "And so, I made a promise to do what I could to help this effort to bring legislation to California."

RAW VIDEO: Husband of Brittany Maynard speaks out

SB 128 would allow those with six months or less to live to choose to end their life with a prescription medication. At least two doctors would have to confirm the terminal diagnosis.

It's too early to predict how the newly introduced California bill will fare. Lawmakers expect the proposal to face a strong challenge, led by medical and religious groups.

Some medical groups say prescribing life-ending medication violates a doctor's oath to do no harm, while some advocates for persons with disabilities fear some sick patients would feel pressured to end their lives to avoid being a financial burden.

"If you look at the Oregon data, they are choosing this they say because they fear being a burden, or they fear of losing control," said Tim Rosales with Californians Against Assisted Suicide. "It's not suffering and it's not pain."

Similar bills failed in California in 2005 and 2006.

"There are no assisted suicide safeguards that can protect our most vulnerable," said Luis Alvarado with Californians Against Assisted Suicide. "Our coalition will work diligently to make sure Californians once again do not allow this law to pass."

But Maynard's family says this kind of legislation was her dying wish and they're vowing to fight.

"Californians, you now have a right, you have the opportunity to bring this option to this state and I implore the citizens of this state, contact your Senators, contact your Assembly members, stand up and make your voice heard, even if it shakes like mine," said Ziegler. "Please help me carry over my daughter's legacy. Please help me assure that other terminally ill patients don't face what we had to face."

Advocates say if this bill doesn't pass in the California Legislature, they'll consider a ballot measure.

Since Maynard's story has gone viral, there's been momentum for new legislation around the country. Bills have recently been introduced in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Washington, D.C., and are being considered in New York and Colorado.


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