A Final Promise Lives On | WGLT

A Final Promise Lives On

Oct 9, 2017

An advocate for end-of-life options will visit Illinois State University this week to share his wife's story in an effort to help others who face death.

In November 2014, Brittany Maynard passed away, her husband Dan Diaz at her side. Her story became national news when Maynard, facing certain death from an aggressive brain tumor, chose to pursue a gentle dying process.

The couple moved from California to Oregon, one of just a handful of states where medical aid in dying is allowed. Diaz made a promise to his wife to help others in similar circumstances, advocating for end-of-life options and death with dignity legislation, so that others would not have to uproot themselves in order to pursue the option of a gentle dying process.

Illinois State's Department of Psychology presents a talk from Diaz, entitled "Brittany Maynard's Story of Living Life: End of Life Options and Care," on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center.

Diaz travels the country, sharing his wife's journey, in order to help put a human story at the heart of a difficult issue. 

"She loved being outdoors. Brittany had summited Kilimanjaro. It's what she enjoyed doing," said Diaz, who revealed that his wife had an adventurous soul and loved life. "We were in the process of looking to start a family. We were at the beginning of our marriage. And then we discovered on New Year's Day that Brittany had that brain tumor."

The news was devastating, but Diaz said that his wife fought against the disease with all her might until it was clear that there was no cure. Death was imminent. 

"We left our home in California and moved to Oregon so that she would have the option of medical aid in dying, if it were to become necessary for her. Her focus was on living life as long as possible, but knowing that if the suffering gets to a point where it cannot keep her from suffering seizures, from having a stroke, from going blind, from becoming paralyzed, that she had that option of the gently dying process. Her determination was always to live."

Just weeks before her death, Brittany Maynard made a video about her choice and uploaded it to YouTube, sparking a national conversation about dying. Maynard and Diaz also worked with the nonprofit Compassion and Choices, an organization that works to improve end-of-life options.

Before his wife's passing, Diaz promised her that he would carry on the work to move state legislatures to pass laws that make death with dignity available. Since beginning his work, Diaz has seen California, Colorado, Montana and Washington, D.C., pass legislation. Working with politicians has proven frustrating on occasion.

"It's interesting how many staunch conservatives have shared with me that they are personally supportive of this," revealed Diaz. "There was a gentleman in Utah, a senator, who is Mormon with whom I had a great conversation, I really enjoyed talking with him. He was sharing with me the situation where his own mother had recently died and he said he wished that she had had this option. Now, he recognizes that privately we can have this conversation, but publicly, for him to vote for it, he would get push back from his caucus. That is extremely frustrating."

Regardless, Diaz remains determined to keep his promise to Brittany and pursue legislation for death-with-dignity.

"Our elected officials need to represent the will of their constituents and not just tow the party line. And I think that's what Brittany's story does. The benefit of sharing her story is that people recognize that this is not a partisan issue. We're talking about life. And eventually every single one of us will die. State by state, my hope is that we will see more legislation passed."

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