One hundred eleven people suffering terminal illnesses opted to take their own lives in the first six months of California’s “right to die” law, of 191 patients who received life-ending medication from their doctors.
The data, released Tuesday by the California Department of Public Health, looked at demographic information of qualified patients who obtained and used life-ending drugs. California enacted the End of Life Option Act in June 2016, allowing people with less than six months to live to request end-of-life drugs from their doctors.
Dan Diaz, the husband of right to die advocate Brittany Maynard, called the data “a testament” to his late wife’s “voice and advocacy that those 111 individuals had the ability to stay at home, under the care of their own medical team, and be surrounded by friends and family when they died.”
“Brittany didn’t have that. We had to move to Oregon for her to have a gentle passing,” Diaz said.
Maynard became a vocal advocate for the right to die in her last few months of life. After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Maynard moved to Oregon—which at the time was only one of four states to allow patients to take their own life.
Corinne Carey, the New York campaign director for the right to die advocacy group Compassion & Choices, said the data will help spearhead a similar effort in New York.
“I think this report will answer a lot of the questions people have had,” Carey said said. “We’ve had a lot of rich data out of Oregon, but Oregon is a pretty homogenous state. California is much more populous and diverse. It’s much more like New York.”
Carey told the New York Daily News the data should help dispel the concern among lawmakers that disadvantaged individuals will more actively seek out end-of-life medication.
“These are educated, health-literate people asking for some control over their death,” she said.
In a 2014 CNN op-ed explaining her decision, Maynard explained her decision, writing of her illness: “Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time even though cancer is eating my mind.”
“I do not want to die. But I am dying,” she wrote. “And I want to die on my own terms.”
She also explained her advocacy others facing a similar fate, noting while she and her husband were able to move to Oregon to obtain end-of-life medication, “the vast majority of families do not have the flexibility, resources and time to make all these changes.”
“As I look at the data, what goes through my mind is what a selfless, loving and caring person Brittany was to try to help these individuals suffering,” Diaz told the News.
“I’m so immensely proud of Brittany for deciding to speak up to help people she would never meet,” he said.