A total of 111 people took their own lives during the first six months of California’s End of Life Option Act — a relatively small number for a populous state and one that could help passage of a similar law in New York, experts said Tuesday.
For the widower of aid-in-dying advocate Brittany Maynard, the number is intensely personal.
“It’s a testament to Brittany’s voice and advocacy, that those 111 individuals had the ability to stay at home, under the care of their own medical team, and be surrounded by friends and family when they died. Brittany didn’t have that. We had to move to Oregon for her to have a gentle passing,” Dan Diaz told the Daily News on Tuesday.
The new California law went into effect in June 2016. By the end of December, 173 unique physicians had prescribed aid-in-dying drugs to 191 individuals, the California Department of Public Health reported.
Of the 191 people, 111 used the medication to end their own lives, officials said. The other 80 people included 21 individuals who died without ingesting the drugs and 59 cases with no reported outcome by year’s end, officials said.
Maynard was 29 years old and suffering from aggressive, terminal brain cancer when she moved from California to Oregon in 2014 to end her life with physician prescribed medication.
Three weeks before her death, she went public and made international headlines with her intimate and brutally honest look at her impossible decision.
“When you realize you’re going to die and you learn how you’re going to die, you have choices to make. And those choices aren’t easy,” she told Compassion & Choices, the nation’s leading end of life choice advocacy organization.
“I looked at passing away in hospice care in California, and I really didn’t like what that would have looked like for me,” she said. “I have a tremendous sense of relief now that I have the prescription filled.”
Maynard ended her life on November 1, 2014, to put a stop to the intense head pain, nausea, insomnia and seizures she was suffering, her mother Deborah Ziegler previously told The News.
Ziegler and Diaz carried on Maynard’s advocacy after her passing. Their voices helped make California the fifth state in the nation giving patients with less than six months to live the choice of requesting end-of-life drugs from their doctors.
“I’m so immensely proud of Brittany for deciding to speak up to help people she would never meet,” Diaz said Tuesday.
“As I look at the data, what goes through my mind is what a selfless, loving and caring person Brittany was to try to help these individuals suffering a similar fate,” he told The News.
Patients seeking a prescription must get two different doctors to confirm they have six months or less to live and the mental capacity to understand their decision.
The new data from California is expected to help Death with Dignity legislation in New York, Corinne Carey, New York’s campaign director for Compassion & Choices, told The News.
“I think this report will answer a lot of the questions people have had,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of rich data out of Oregon, but Oregon is a pretty homogenous state. California is much more populous and diverse. It’s much more like New York.”
She said one concern among New York lawmakers is that terminally ill people who also happen to be disadvantaged will be pressured to seek aid in dying.
Of the 111 terminally ill people who took their own lives in California, 89.5% were white and 72.1% had some level of college education, according to the new data.
“These are educated, health-literate people asking for some control over their death,” she said.
Carey said the data should also help dispel fears there will be a “flood of requests” in New York.
“In any given year, there are only going to be a small percentage of people who seek medical aid in dying. It’s not for a lot of people. This should help set lawmakers’ minds at ease,” she said.
Diaz said he’s spoken to California families whose loved ones passed away using the new California law.
“They were so appreciative to Britney for speaking up and also very grateful for my advocacy in Sacramento to get this passed. To me, that means the world,” Diaz said. “One case was a man who was 94 years old. His family couldn’t imagine having to up and move to another state like Brittany did. I could feel their sincere gratitude.”