Death with Dignity advocateBrittany Maynard

About a year after she got married, Maynard was given a grim diagnosis: an aggressive glioblastoma — a deadly brain cancer. Radical surgery was performed, but within months, it was back with a vengeance: stage 4. She was told she had six months to live, with increasing pain and seizures. A Californian, Maynard and her husband moved to Oregon, because it has a “Death with Dignity” law — it was, in fact, the first of just five in the nation with such a law. She decided to use the time she had left to start a fund to help such laws pass in other states, so others facing grim circumstances have a legal and sure way to end their lives.

It’s not used a lot: in the 17 years since Oregon passed the law, only 752 people used it, but many gain solace knowing they have the option, should they need it. Maynard decided she needed it. She appeared in People magazine to present her choice, sparking a national debate on whether humans should have a say in the matter of their own deaths. “It took people a while to come around to agreeing with me,” Maynard said. “There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die. I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there’s not.” She spent her last months seeing places on her Bucket List: Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, and finishing with the Grand Canyon, but had to cut that trip short due to her deteriorating condition. “Brittany chose to make a well-thought-out and informed choice to die with dignity in the face of such a terrible, painful and incurable illness,” her family said in a statement. Maynard died at home on the date she chose — November 1, so she could celebrate her husband’s late October birthday — with drugs prescribed by her doctor. She was 29.

From This is True for 2 November 2014