Brittany Maynard would have turned 30 on Wednesday, but less than three weeks after her purposeful passing, she's still elevating the aid-in-dying push politically — and igniting that cause with social energy, its leaders say.
“The movement has spent 20 years preparing itself for Brittany Maynard to give it real life,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, a national nonprofit dedicated to expanding the rights of the terminally ill.
The organization — with which Maynard partnered to publicize her end-of-life wishes — has been measuring the impact made by the California newlywed during her final days and, now, after her death.
The group notes 15 “positive” newspaper editorials published since Maynard went public Oct. 6 with a video that went viral, explaining her rationale to consume lethal medication Nov. 1 rather than let terminal brain cancer run its natural course. That same month, she moved from the Bay Area with her family to a rental house in Portland, Oregon, one of five states where doctors can legally prescribe drugs for terminally ill adults seeking to end their lives.
During October, 384 volunteers joined Compassion & Choices — almost six times as many as did in September. Another 197 people signed up during the first week of November, the group said. The nonprofit said its website has received more than 7 million page views since early October — at one point getting 249,000 hits per hour. It said its email list has swelled by more than 350,000 people over the past six weeks, and the median age of those subscribers is now 33, down from 66.
"This is what Brittany intended."
Maynard’s own website, meanwhile, received 10 times more traffic on one day during her October campaign than all Compassion & Choices sites combined had ever logged. For example, from Oct. 5 to Nov. 10, 2013, the organization’s sites recorded about 4,000 hits. On Oct. 7, Maynard’s personal site received that amount of traffic in just 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
“It’s the mood and the tempo that I pick up from our field staff all around the country — it’s their world that is rocked,” Coombs Lee said.
“This is what Brittany intended. This is what she started to plan almost as soon as she knew she was dying."
Politically, Maynard is making marks as well.
On Nov. 13, the New Jersey state General Assembly passed an “Aid-in-Dying” bill 41 to 31. A state lawmaker supporting the proposal mentioned Maynard during a floor debate. It still must pass the state Senate before going to Gov. Chris Christie. But Coombs Lee called that vote “our first victory in the memory and spirit of Brittany Maynard.”
“People will be talking about her for decades and decades,” Coombs Lee told NBC News.
She compared Maynard to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a 19th-century advocate for women’s voting rights.
“From this time forward, it’s not too much to say people will associate the freedom to choose at the end of life with Brittany Maynard,” Coombs Lee said.
Maynard, however, also stirred criticism — some of it in high places — by choosing to end her life rather than let cancer to take her organically.
"The claim that Brittany Maynard somehow propelled a bill through the New Jersey Assembly is false."
“Over the past 20 years, despite well over one hundred legislative efforts and many ballot initiatives, assisted suicide advocates Compassion and Choices have only been successful in a tiny fraction of states,” said Jennifer Popik, legislative counsel for the National Right to Life Committee, which calls each aid-in-dying death “a preventable tragedy.”
“While Brittany Maynard certainly received a great deal of media attention, the hope is that her death drives conversations about medical wishes, not the push to legalize doctors dispensing lethal prescriptions,” Popik added. “The claim that Brittany Maynard somehow propelled a bill through the New Jersey Assembly is false. The state has become a perennial target and the bill is unlikely to become law due to an uninterested (state) Senate as well as a veto indication from Gov. Christie.”
The Vatican, meanwhile, issued a condemnation four days after Maynard's death. A Vatican official told an Italian news agency that Maynard’s choice was “reprehensible.”
That statement spurred Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, to write a retort and share it Monday exclusively with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.
“Reprehensible is a word I've used as a teacher to describe the actions of Hitler, other political tyrants and the exploitation of children by pedophiles. As Brittany Maynard’s mother, I find it difficult to believe that anyone who knew her would ever select this word to describe her actions,” Ziegler wrote. “Brittany was a giver. She was a volunteer. She was a teacher. She was an advocate. She worked at making the world a better place to live.
“This word was used publicly at a time when my family was tender and freshly wounded. Grieving," she added. "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.”
Zeigler, along with her husband and Maynard’s widower, Dan Diaz, have since moved out of the Portland rental house they shared with Maynard. And they will not attend a 30th birthday, candlelight celebration for Maynard that death-with-dignity advocates plan Wednesday night at the First Unitarian Church of Portland.
“It will be particularly poignant for me because I view that church as a sanctuary, birthplace of the Oregon Death with Dignity movement,” Coombs Lee said.
In the basement of that church, activists drafted what was to become Oregon’s Death With Dignity Law in the early 1990s. The church became headquarters for press events throughout 1994, before Oregon voters eventually approved the proposal. Janet Adkins also attended that church. She later became the first person Dr. Jack Kevorkian helped to die.
“This was the sanctuary where — when Brittany was about to turn 10, in November of 1994 — the celebration took place after the Death with Dignity Law was passed,” Coombs Lee said. “This birthday celebration will bring everything full circle for that church and for Brittany.”