For Activist, Passage Of Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Is 'Bittersweet' Win A bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide has been approved by the California state legislature, and now awaits the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown.
NPR logo

For Activist, Passage Of Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Is 'Bittersweet' Win

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/439813900/439813901" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
For Activist, Passage Of Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Is 'Bittersweet' Win

Law

For Activist, Passage Of Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Is 'Bittersweet' Win

For Activist, Passage Of Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Is 'Bittersweet' Win

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/439813900/439813901" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A bill legalizing physician-assisted suicide has been approved by the California state legislature, and now awaits the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown. NPR's Arun Rath talks with Dan Diaz, whose late wife, Brittany Maynard, advocated for "right to die" legislation after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

A victory for advocates in the right-to-die movement. Last night, the California legislature approved the End-Of-Life Option Act and sent it to Governor Jerry Brown. If the governor signs it, California will become the fifth state to allow physician-assisted suicide. The act is strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and disability rights groups. California State Senator Joel Anderson voiced his concern on the Senate floor yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEN JOEL ANDERSON: The legislation effectively paints a target on the back of each and every elderly and disabled person in our state.

RATH: But one of the driving forces in support of the bill has been Dan Diaz, his wife was Brittany Maynard. Last year, she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and she moved to Oregon to die legally via a physician's lethal prescription. Since then, Dan Diaz has carried on his late wife's activism. Dan, welcome to the program.

DAN DIAZ: Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity.

RATH: So this bill still needs a signature from Governor Jerry Brown to become law. What do you expect the governor to do?

DIAZ: The governor hasn't given any indication, one way or the other. My wife did have a conversation with Governor Brown three days before she died. And I haven't given details on that conversation, but it was a good conversation, a productive conversation. So I hope that the governor hears that a terminally ill individual should have this option available to them. It'll go a long way to help current terminally ill Californians that are facing what Brittany was - a potentially brutal dying process.

RATH: You were there in Sacramento yesterday. Can you tell us about your reaction when you got the news that the act had been approved?

DIAZ: Yeah, I was on the floor of the Senate and watched as the senators debated and as the vote count went up, and we ended up with 23 votes. As far as feeling personally, a great sense of, you know, relief, pride in my wife - in Brittany and what she had started. A lot of emotions for me of course being very bittersweet - and I would say emphasis on the bitter because my wife died, because it took my wife's story in order to start this conversation. You know, she died last year of that brain tumor that started this - all of this attention on this topic.

RATH: The act has faced opposition from people worried about the possibility of abuse - you know, people who are terminally ill can be at their most vulnerable. Are you confident the bill has enough safeguards?

DIAZ: Indeed. The guidelines are very stringent, and the comment - the opening clip that you played from the senator who mentioned that this somehow puts a target - a bull's-eye on the back of disabled or elderly patients - I would absolutely disagree with. A person does not qualify for this program simply because they are elderly. A person does not qualify for this program simply because they are disabled. My wife was told that in six months she will be dead. That is significantly different than someone who is told that they have a tumor or something else, that means they will continue to live with a disability, but they have a long life ahead of them.

RATH: Dan, once the law is settled here in California, what happens next for you? Are you going to continue pushing for this in other states?

DIAZ: Yes, the promise that I made to Brittany is that I would do what I could so that nobody else would have to go through what Brittany went through. Having to leave our house, having to move to another state, establish a new medical team for her - all of that while knowing that she only had six months to live. Nobody should have to go through that at their end-of-life. So my focus is primarily in California. Hopefully, if we are successful and get this bill into law, then I will turn my attentions toward the other states that are currently moving legislation forward. So my efforts will certainly continue.

RATH: That's Dan Diaz, husband of the late Brittany Maynard and an advocate for what supporters call death with dignity.

Dan, thanks very much.

DIAZ: Thank you.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.