Husband of Brittany Maynard lobbies for NY right-to-die bill

AP News
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Posted: Feb 25, 2016 4:59 PM
Husband of Brittany Maynard lobbies for NY right-to-die bill

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Dan Diaz has lobbied lawmakers across the country and gone on Oprah, all to fulfill a promise to his late wife, Brittany Maynard, who put a face on the debate over allowing terminally ill patients to seek life-ending drugs.

On Thursday, Diaz was in Albany to tell Maynard's story again, this time to New York lawmakers considering a right-to-die bill. Maynard attracted national attention in 2014 when, at age 29, she moved to Oregon to legally end her life after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given six months to live. She died later that year.

"Last year, 24 states introduced legislation, and in almost all of them, they mentioned Brittany," he told The Associated Press. "The impact she had ... she was the star. I'm just doing what I can."

The New York legislation would allow terminally ill people to request life-ending drugs from a physician. Two doctors would have to certify that the patient is competent to make the decision, and physicians could refuse to participate for any reason. Two witnesses would be required to be present when patients complete their formal, written request.

Following Maynard's death, lawmakers in her home state of California voted to make their state the fifth to allow end-of-life assistance.

Supporters of the New York bill say it would give terminally ill patients the choice of dying with dignity — and avoiding more suffering — while ensuring safeguards are in place. But it faces significant obstacles. Even agreeing on terms for the issue — aid-in-dying, physician-assisted suicide, death with dignity, right-to-die — is difficult.

Asked about the issue this month, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Long island, said, "My visceral reaction is, I don't like that. Obviously, we're literally talking about life and death."

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that he would want to carefully review the details of the bill before deciding whether he could support it.

"It's obviously complicated and controversial," he said.

Many lawmakers would rather not discuss the issue, said Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

"It's death; it's icky," she said. "People say, 'Do we have to talk about it?' The truth is, we do."

Opponents say a right-to-die law could be misused, by people struggling with mental illness or by greedy heirs who urge an elderly relative to end his or her life early. The Rev. Jason McGuire, president of the New Yorker's Family Research Foundation, said that while Diaz is a sympathetic figure, lawmakers need to consider the issue with clear eyes.

"We're telling stories instead of facts," he said.

Diaz said he'll continue to talk about his wife, about how she lived and how she died. He said he wants to destigmatize the debate.

"It's tough. It's emotional," he said of his lobbying efforts, which are now full-time. "I'm honoring my promise to Brittany. And there is a certain amount of therapeutic value to me."