In her September 2012 wedding picture, available online, Brittany Maynard looks young, vibrant and happy, as she also does in a candid shot relaxing at her home in San Francisco with Charley, her dog.
Early this year, however, Maynard was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. After less than 18 months of marriage, she was told she had six months to live. Now, Maynard, husband Dan Diaz and her mother, Debbie Ziegler, have relocated to Oregon, where Maynard says she'll end her life most likely on Nov. 1, shortly after Diaz's birthday on Oct. 26.
"There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left," Maynard wrote in a blog post for CNN.com. Uprooting her life and establishing residency in Oregon, where it is legal for doctors to prescribe life-ending medication, was a wrenching process, but Maynard said having the necessary medications to end her life has brought peace of mind.
"I've had the medication for weeks," Maynard wrote. "I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms."
Maynard went public with her story to support the "death with dignity" movement and to lobby for right-to-die legislation in the 45 states that don't support it now. Washington, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont also have right-to-die provisions. Maynard explained her decision in a YouTube video that has received over 3.5 million views so far.
While Maynard has her supporters, a fellow victim of cancer, 36-year-old Kara Tippetts of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is urging her not to preempt her natural demise. Tippetts says her breast cancer has "passed the blood/brain barrier" and metastasized throughout her body, and that she, too, does not have long to live.
"You have been told a lie. A horrible lie, that your dying will not be beautiful. That the suffering will be too great," Tippetts wrote in an open letter to Maynard on the blog, A Holy Experience.
Tippetts, an evangelical Christian, offered to meet with Maynard personally to share her perspective. "Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying. My heart longs for you to know Him in your dying. Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place," she wrote.
Tippetts, who is married with four young children, recently published "The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard," and blogs about her cancer experience, although her own website, MundaneFaithfulness.com, at one point crashed due to high traffic.
"I pray my words reach you," Tippetts writes Maynard, whose faith background hasn't been publicly mentioned, in her open letter. "I pray they reach the multitudes that are looking at your story and believing the lie that suffering is a mistake, that dying isn’t to be braved, that choosing our death is the courageous story."
According to a 2013 roundup by the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project, religious opinions on euthanasia and assisted suicide vary widely. The Roman Catholic Church, Protestant groups such as the Assemblies of God, Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, Seventh-day Adventists and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all oppose both practices.
Hindu, Islamic and Jewish teachings also oppose the practice, Pew noted, and Buddhism teaches "it is morally wrong to destroy human life, including one's own." Unitarian Universalists, however, have for more than 25 years supported the "right to die," saying the decision belongs to the individual, and not a church or committee.
And while some, such as Dallas Morning News deputy editorial page editor Sharon F. Grigsby, allow that "death with dignity" may be helpful, she also believes "passing laws to dull the pain and terror of death is not nearly as valuable as learning, as an individual and a community, how to walk loved ones through that fear and despair."