Brittany Maynard has precisely 26 days to live. She knows this because she has chosen the date she will pass away, peacefully and painlessly, in her Oregon home. She'll be surrounded by a small group of people — including her mother and husband — whom she loves. Maynard selected November 1 for her death because her husband's birthday is on October 26, and she wants to celebrate with him.
It's not a coincidence that Brittany and her family live in one of the only five U.S. states that allow assisted suicide. Soon after Brittany was married, she began experiencing debilitating, unexplained headaches. On January 1, 2014, while on vacation with her husband, Brittany was diagnosed with a grade II astrocytoma — a severe brain tumor that doctors predicted would allow Brittany at most 10 years to live. "I have to tell you," she states in the video above, "when you’re 29 years old, being told you have that kind of timeline still feels like being told you’re going to die tomorrow."
A few months later, Brittany's prognosis shifted dramatically. Despite having undergone surgery, her cancer had progressed to glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the deadliest form of brain cancer. With treatment, GBM's median survival time is around 14.6 months, meaning that half of those with GBM live for longer than 14.6, and half live for less. Brittany was given six months. Doctors explained that her death would be slow and painful as her tumor grew — a worsening progression of headaches, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and seizures.
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That's when Brittany decided that she would end her life before the tumor did — with her family by her side. She was living in California, however, which does not allow doctor-assisted suicide (though Brittany takes issue with the word "suicide," as she told People: "There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die," she clarified. "I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease, but there's not"). Only five states — Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington — currently have death-with-dignity laws in place, meaning that terminally ill patients who qualify can access medication that will quickly and painlessly kill them if they choose to ingest it. Most patients who receive this medication never actually take it. Instead, it serves to give them peace of mind — an option for if and when their suffering becomes too great. Brittany, however, is almost ready to say goodbye.
With the time she has left, Brittany is fighting for others' rights to end their lives with dignity. In partnership with end-of-life-rights advocacy organization Compassion & Choices, The Brittany Maynard Fund launched today to provide Brittany a platform to share her story and gather support for death-with-dignity legislation and assistance. Brittany explains that there are "tons of Americans who don’t have the time or the ability or finances" to do what she did (moving to a state that allows for aid in dying). "And," she told People, "I don't think that's right or fair."
Some of Brittany's thoughts echo those of Gillian Bennett, who (at 83 years old and battling dementia) took her own life this past August, with her husband at her side. Before her death, Gillian penned an eloquent letter explaining why all who face terminal illness should have the choice to do as Gillian did. Brittany, too, focuses on death as a choice — a planned farewell to the life and the people she has loved — that she will make on her own terms. "I will die upstairs," she says, "in my bedroom that I share with my husband, with my mother and my husband by my side, and pass peacefully."