The latest from Compassion & Choices

Healthcare Advocacy Group Honors Deceased Advocates of CA Medical Aid-in-Dying Law on 5th Anniversary of Brittany Maynard’s Death

Latina Mom with Incurable Cancer Inspired by Maynard who Plans to Move from Nevada to Access CA End of Life Option Act Joins Procession Ceremony with Maynard’s Husband

Hanna Olivas speaks at Day of the Dead

In recognition of  Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), Compassion & Choices today honored the memory of deceased advocates of the state’s medical aid-in-dying law on the 5th Anniversary of Brittany Maynard’s passing, a California woman who inspired the law. 

The law, called the End of Life Option Act, gives mentally capable, terminally ill adult Californians with six months or less to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable. Since the law went into effect June 9, 2016 through Dec. 31, 2018, 1,108 people have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying and 807 people (72.8%) have died from ingesting the aid-in-dying medication, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The celebration occurs five years to the day since the death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman who moved to Oregon so she could die peacefully when she could no longer tolerate the suffering caused by a glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer in 2014. This week, Compassion & Choices released a new video about the legislative success she inspired to advance medical aid-in-dying laws and enlist diverse new advocates. The video is posted at:

“Brittany was able to focus on truly living life because she didn’t have to be terrified of how her dying process might play out,” said her husband, Dan Diaz “She died peacefully thanks to the option of medical aid in dying.”

Advocates from different cultures and different faiths kicked off the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebration with a procession at First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego led by a moment of prayer. Inside the chapel was a colorful altar with photos of the late Brittany Maynard, Latino advocate Miguel Carrasquillo and other Californians. A moment of silence followed a lighting of candles. 

Hanna Olivas, a 45-year-old mother of four children, spoke about living with a rare form of incurable blood cancer, multiple myeloma since August 2017. Recently, doctors told Hanna she has only months to one year to live. 

When our Lord calls me, I do not want to be connected to machines, catheters and tubes that will cause more pain and vomiting that only debilitate my relatively young 45-year-old body,” said Hanna. “I want to die peacefully, surrounded by my husband and our two sons, two daughters and our precious grandchildren, Dominic and Damien, holding my hand in prayer.”

Hanna and husband, Jerry will soon be leaving their Las Vegas home, to move to southern California, so she can have access to California’s medical aid-in-dying law because Nevada does not have a similar law. 

Amanda Villegas spoke about her late husband, Chris Davis, who suffered horribly before his death in the Inland Empire, despite the fact that medical aid in dying is authorized in California.

“My husband died exactly how he feared most,” said Amanda. “A hospital and a bureaucratic system denied my husband his final wish: to maintain some comfort in his final days, so that he could die gently.”

“Today we honor the memory of strong California advocates who had to fight for what they wanted at the end of life, but in some cases, were not able to get. They did not want anyone else to have to go through the unbearable experience they did,” said Samantha Trad, California State Director, Compassion & Choices. “Three in four Californians, including 68 percent of Latinos in the Golden State support the End of Life Option Act. We must continue working to protect the law and make sure that eligible terminally ill people can access it if they want and do not suffer the way Chris Davis and others have.

“Medical aid in dying involves terminally ill people who would love to live, but they cannot because they are dying – and soon,” said Lisa Heikoff, M.D., a geriatrician from San Diego. “Their actions are carefully thought out, in consultation with their doctor and loved ones.”

“There is nothing more powerful than the presence of love and the freedom of choice in the face of the full human experience – life, death, and everything in between,” said Rev. Elizabeth Semonova,  MSW, MTS; Practice Director & Psychospiritual Guide for Integrated MD Care. “My God neither directs nor judges the choices we make, rather loves us through them all, and calls us to do the same. 

Brittany’s advocacy inspired California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawai‘i, and New Jersey to pass laws authorizing medical aid in dying since she died on Nov. 1, 2014. Thanks to previously passed laws in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and a Montana Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit filed by Compassion & Choices, nearly one out of five Americans live in a jurisdiction where this end-of-life care option is available. Collectively, these 8 jurisdictions represent 19 percent of the nation’s population and 30 percent of the Latino population.  Medical aid in dying has made headlines among Latinos because of the death of Puerto Rican advocate Miguel Carrasquillo.