It was 17 days ago, on the first of this month, when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took the lethal medication she had been prescribed months earlier. She quietly ended her life in the company of her husband, her mother, and a select few others. "Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love," she wrote on Facebook just before she died. "Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me...but would have taken so much more."
Maynard chose to end her life before her glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) — the deadliest form of brain cancer — ended it for her. She passed away on her terms, in her Oregon home, surrounded by those she loved and who loved her. When Brittany went public about her decision to die (she began a death-with-dignity-rights campaign with Compassion & Choices), her story reignited the latent debate over aid in dying in this country — a debate that rages on in Brittany's absence. She incited support, uncertainty, and also vehement criticism. Earlier this month, a top Vatican official called Brittany's act "reprehensible." "Assisted suicide is an absurdity," Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula declared. "Dignity is something different than putting an end to your own life."
Carrasco de Paula's sentiment has been echoed by both religious and non-religious opponents of the right to aid in dying. Now, Brittany's mother, Debbie Ziegler, has spoken up in defense of her daughter's choice in a heartfelt new letter, which she provided to MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.
"My 29-year-old daughter's choice to die gently rather than suffer physical and mental degradation and intense pain," Ziegler writes, "does not deserve to be labeled as reprehensible by strangers a continent away who do not know her or the particulars of her situation. Reprehensible is a harsh word. It means: 'very bad; deserving very strong criticism'... As Brittany Maynard's mother, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would ever select this word to describe her actions."
Ziegler continues: "Such strong public criticism from people we do not know, have never met — is more than a slap in the face. It is like kicking us as we struggle to draw a breath." Now that Brittany can no longer add her voice to the conversation her story sparked, her mother has made clear that she will continue to advocate for the right that Brittany both championed and exercised. "People and institutions that feel they have the right to judge Brittany's choices may wound me and cause me unspeakable pain," Ziegler states, "but they do not deter me from supporting my daughter's choice."