A woman battling cancer is suing the state of California to make physician-assisted dying legal. This is the latest in an intensifying debate over end-of-life options for the terminally ill. In November, Brittany Maynard reignited a national conversation on the issue. Oregon’s “death with dignity” law allowed the 29-year-old with incurable brain cancer to take her own life. This weekend, The Washington Post featured my husband John’s story. Gravely ill with Parkinson’s in a state with no legal aid-in-dying option, John stopped eating and drinking to end his life. More than a thousand readers and listeners have weighed in on the article. Today: We revisit the aid-in-dying debate and look ahead to its future.


  • Art Caplan Head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.
  • Barbara Coombs Lee President, Compassion & Choices; co-author of the nation's first death with dignity law in Oregon that took effect in 1997.
  • Dr. Ira Byock Chief medical officer for Providence's Institute for Human Caring; author of "The Best Care Possible."
  • Michael Rosenwald Staff writer for The Washington Post.

Brittany Maynard Writes To Diane Rehm

Ahead of our Oct. 23 show on the aid-in-dying movement, and Brittany Maynard’s choice to end her own life, Maynard wrote into the show to talk about her decision.

A portion of her comments appear below.

I am Brittany Maynard and it concerns me that Dr. Ira Byock will speak on my “behalf” at all again. I watched a special on PBS where this same individual spoke about my case as though he knew personal details about me, saying some things that were quite frankly not true. For example, he said a gentle death would be available to me easily through hospice, unfortunately that would be after a great length of time, with lots of suffering, physical and emotional, and loss for my young body. 

He is right, this is not being accomplished successfully for many terminally ill Americans. This needs to change. I agree with him there. But perhaps most disturbingly, Byock claimed that Compassion and Choices had somehow taken advantage of me through “exploitation” and that I feel compelled to die now based on public expectations. I do not, this is my choice. I am not that weak. 

The day is my choice. I have the right to change my mind at any time, the patient right that is critical to understanding Death with Dignity. The claim of exploitation is utterly false, considering I had gone through the entire process of moving, physician approval for Death With Dignity, and filled my prescription before I ever even spoke to anyone at Compassion and Choices about volunteering and decided to share my story. 

I support the organization because I support the cause. I believe this is a healthcare right and choice that should be available to all terminally ill Americans.

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