Virginia and Brittany
Thanks to a Bay Area woman, Californians will have the option of death with dignity
Next month will be 20 years since my paternal grandmother, Virginia, succumbed to a brain tumor called glioblastoma. If that type of cancer sounds familiar today, it's probably because it's the same one that led 29-year-old Brittany Maynard to take her own life with a fatal dose of prescription sleeping pills last November.
Maynard became the central figure for advocates of California's right-to-die bill last year, when she shared her story about having to move out of state to seek the aid of medical professionals to die on her own terms, peacefully. The prognosis for glioblastoma is grim. Maynard was diagnosed with its precursor form in January 2014. She died that fall.
The scenario for my grandmother was similar. The doctors gave her six months to live and that prediction was spot-on. I took care of her the summer before she passed, and watched her go from healthy and independent to a state of semi-paralysis and depression. Like Maynard, my grandmother underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Unfortunately, the surgeon cut into a part of the brain responsible for gross motor control and she lost most of the mobility on one side of her body. The matriarch of my huge family then needed round-the-clock care. It was devastating for her.
At the end of summer, I was encouraged to return to my studies at a college several hours away. My grandmother and I were very close. Going back to school is the biggest regret of my life. I visited on the weekends and was shocked each trip at the cancer's progression. She spent the last few weeks of her life in a Chico rehabilitation facility—and died while I was en route to see her one last time. I'm thankful that she was surrounded by other family members, but I know that she wanted to die at home, and I wish that I would have helped make that happen.
My grandmother was a beautiful and deeply religious woman and I have a feeling she would not have chosen to end her own life through prescribed meds. But she ought to have had that option. Brittany Maynard did only because she moved to Oregon. That state's aid-in-dying law is called the Death with Dignity Act, and for anyone who's had to watch the unrelenting brutality of cancer, that title makes perfect sense.
Maynard's husband recently described how she drifted off to sleep after taking the life-ending medication. She controlled how she left this world, just liked she'd wanted. And thanks to her advocacy, others will be able to do the same.
Earlier this week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the End of Life Option Act, which will allow doctors to prescribe to qualified patients—those with fewer than six months to live who are deemed mentally competent—a lethal dose of medication. That news comes as a great relief to countless residents living with cancer, especially those with a terminal diagnosis. It means they don't have to flee their homes to seek a humane and dignified end to their lives. Many people who will succumb to cancer likely will not take advantage of the law, but they'll have the comfort of knowing that they could.