Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old face of the controversial right-to-death movement, has died. She captivated millions via social media with her public decision to end her life.
Sean Crowley, spokesman for the non-profit organization Compassion & Choices, confirmed Maynard's death Sunday evening.
"She died peacefully on Saturday, Nov. 1 in her Portland home, surrounded by family and friends," according to a statement from Compassion & Choices.
The statement said Maynard suffered "increasingly frequent and longer seizures, severe head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms." She chose to take the "aid-in-dying medication she received months ago."
Her death brings a new element to the movement in the age of social media because the conversation has included younger people.
"She's changed the debate by changing the audience of the debate," Abraham Schwab, an associate professor of philosophy at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, told the Associated Press earlier.
One commenter on Twitter posted, "RIP #BrittanyMaynard. To die with dignity still eludes many. May you find peace." Another had mixed feelings. "Brain cancer is a horrific way to die but, being raised traditional Catholic, suicide still a no-no," a commenter wrote.
Maynard was diagnosed with a stage 4 malignant brain tumor. She moved with her family from California to Oregon, where she could legally die with medication prescribed under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act.
Tim Rosales, spokesman for Patients Rights Action Coalition based in Princeton, N.J., said that for every Brittany Maynard, there's a Barbara Wagner, an Oregon woman who fought her insurance company when it said it would cover drugs for her suicide but not for chemotherapy to fight her lung cancer.
"We have to look at assisted suicide in much broader terms," Rosales said in a phone interview Sunday evening. "Obviously, we're very saddened to hear the news about Brittany Maynard. However, that being said, suicide or assisted suicide sends the wrong message to a lot of young people are the country, particularly those who are dealing with psychological or physical challenges or serious illnesses."
Barbara Coombs Lee, co-author of Oregon's death-with-dignity law and president of Compassion & Choices, underscored the importance of Maynard's age in this national conversation.
"The general public has sort of an unspoken expectation that this is what old people deal with. Brittany Maynard's situation is so different. She's young, she's vibrant," Lee said to the AP earlier. "She could be my daughter. She could be a granddaughter, a neighbor, a school friend."
An evangelical inspirational speaker and Catholic seminarian who has brain cancer has been outspoken about Maynard's decision.
"I understand she may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God," said Joni Eareckson Tada last month in an article for Religion News Service.
Philip Johnson, a Catholic seminarian from the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., said on Oct. 22, "Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take. As humans we are relational — we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others."
Maynard's YouTube video posted on Oct. 6 has received 9.5 million page views to date.
In the video she explained her diagnosis and how she planned to die. "I plan to be surrounded by my immediate family," she said in the video. "I will die upstairs in my bedroom that I share with my husband (...)and pass peacefully with some music I like in the background."
Four other states, including Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico, allow patients to seek help from doctors in dying.
Rosales, citing that every major disability rights group that has taken a position on assisted suicide has opposed it, said that once people become more educated and get into the policy, "the more they turn away from it as the answer to the end-of-life question."
Under the Oregon law, the person must be capable, an adult, live in state and have been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months.
Maynard's initial plans had been to die Saturday, two days after her husband's birthday on Oct. 30, but earlier this week she announced in a video she was potentially postponing it due to her current health.
"I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn't seem like the right time right now," she said in a video on her website The Brittany Maynard fund posted on Oct. 29. "But it will come, because I feel myself getting sicker. It's happening each week."
The video has now been viewed more than 2.2 million times.
Source: USA Today