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Brittany Maynard's family shows posthumous video supporting California aid-in-dying proposal

03/25/2015 02:20 EDT | Updated 05/25/2015 05:59 EDT
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In a video recorded 19 days before Brittany Maynard took life-ending drugs, she tells California lawmakers that no one should have to leave home to legally kill themselves under the care of a doctor.

"Unfortunately, California law prevented me from getting the end-of-life option I deserved," she said in the recording released Wednesday, hours ahead of the first state Senate committee hearing on the issue. Lawmakers gave initial approval, 5-2, after a moving debate before a packed Capitol room.

The 29-year-old San Francisco Bay Area woman had terminal brain cancer and moved with her family to Oregon before killing herself last year. Her death drew widespread attention and recharged legislative efforts in California and elsewhere to make it legal for terminally ill patients to kill themselves with drugs.

"No one should have to leave their home and community for peace of mind, to escape suffering, and to plan for a gentle death," Maynard said In the video.

The bill being considered in California is expected to face a strong challenge led by medical, disability and religious groups. Opponents see huge consequences for allowing doctors to prescribe fatal drugs and questioned the morality of the bill.

Opponents told lawmakers Wednesday that the bill would sanction physician assisted suicide with no way to undo mistakes or abuses.

"Do not mistake temporary popularity with wisdom," said Warren Fong, president of the Medical Oncology Association of Southern California and an oncologist.

Other terminally ill patients such as Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old Colorado mother of four, wrote an open letter to Maynard in October urging her not to end her life.

Tippetts wrote that suffering can be "the place where true beauty can be known." She died this month of breast cancer.

Advocates for aid-in-dying laws say legislators in at least 17 states have introduced similar measures this year. However, proposals in at least four states have already stalled for the year and many have not yet received a hearing.

Past proposals have foundered in statehouses amid emotionally charged debates and strong opposition.

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

In the video recorded by the right-to-die advocacy group Compassion & Choices before legislation was introduced in California, Maynard said she explored palliative care as an alternative to life-ending drugs but found that option terrifying.

"I may be minimally conscious, still suffering and unable to move or speak," she said.

Palliative care refers to specialized medical treatment to manage stress and pain from serious illnesses.

Maynard's husband, Dan Diaz, choked back tears in introducing the video during a press conference. He said he respects those who disagree with him and his wife, but aid-in-dying should be an option for all Californians.

Maynard's mother, Deborah Ziegler, testified at the hearing in support of SB128. She said watching her daughter suffer made her understand that some terminal illnesses can only be released by death.

"Being a good mother meant letting go when everything inside of me screamed, 'Hold on,'" Ziegler said.

The practice is legal in five states, including Oregon, where Maynard moved before she took her life Nov. 1. The other states are Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington.

Before her death, Maynard made her case public with online videos that were viewed tens of millions of times.

The proposal by Sens. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would allow terminally ill patients to kill themselves in California with drugs and dosages recommended by a doctor.

California advocates have said they would consider taking the issue to voters if it fails in the Legislature.

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