Brittany Maynard’s Remarkable Legacy

“A topic of keen interest to the middle-aged and elderly suddenly got on the radar of those under 35. If they engage the subject as they did laws banning the use of marijuana and gay marriage, then Brittany may well have the legacy she wanted — greater access for others to the choice she made for herself.”  — Bioethicist Arthur Caplan

The death-with-dignity movement exploded in October. Brittany Maynard’s pursuit to shorten her painful decline from aggressive brain cancer instantly made our issue an international discussion. And by bravely, graciously partnering with Compassion & Choices, her story provided a national platform for our spokespeople and enlisted thousands of new supporters. For the first time, everyone was talking about end-of-life choice.

Her story speaks to every generation and ruled the media for four weeks. She appeared on magazine covers, in television interviews and in thousands of news articles. The two videos she created with C&C generated more than 15 million views – initial web traffic temporarily overwhelmed our servers. It is clear from the commentary that she is shifting the conversation about death with dignity. People who may not be supporters were willing to hear and empathize with Brittany. Support for her choice and for reforming the healthcare system, from citizens, physicians and lawmakers, immediately drove unprecedented numbers to rally for change and continues to grow.

Brittany devoted her final months to follow her motto: do what matters and forget the rest. For her, that meant living life joyfully, reinforcing to those close to her how much she loved them and doing everything in her capacity to set a legacy in motion. “I won’t live to see the death-with-dignity movement reach critical mass, but I call on you to carry it forward. … I have to believe that the pain we’ve endured has a greater purpose in the change we can create as a nation. I leave it in your hands,” she wrote in a message shortly before her death on November 1; by sweet coincidence, All Saints’ Day.

“Brittany Maynard is a heroine,” said President Barbara Coombs Lee. “It is abominable that our policymakers and healthcare system, through their inaction, leave terminally ill people so few options. We will shout Brittany’s story from the mountaintops toward our shared goal of guaranteeing end-of-life liberty for all.”

Compassion & Choices is inexpressibly grateful for the power of Brittany’s spirit and efforts, and we are dedicated to ensuring her mission will endure and grow. Together we can fulfill her noble legacy: that a life well lived may remain so until its very end.