Two lives cut too short in vastly different ways
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When we first came to know each other it was as congressional representative and constituent, but we have since discovered that our connection runs deeper. We both have lost loved ones: one to cancer and the other to suicide. Our vastly different experiences give us unique perspectives, and make the case for keeping D.C.’s medical aid-in-dying law that enables terminally ill adults to peacefully end unbearable suffering.

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a funding bill (HR 6147) with an amendment that would repeal D.C.’s medical aid-in-dying law. While D.C.’s representative in Congress, Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonOvernight Health Care: House votes to repeal medical device tax | Fierce ObamaCare critic joins administration | GOP senators target DC individual mandate Two lives cut too short in vastly different ways Major League Soccer player comes out publicly as gay MORE, authored an amendment with Congressman DeSaulnier’s support that would eliminate this provision, the Republican majority refused to allow it to even be debated.

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All of this follows a move last year by several House members who introduced a resolution (H.Con.Res.80) condemning medical aid in dying as ‘assisted suicide.’ Such rhetoric is neither applicable nor appropriate in describing this end-of-life care option, as stated last year by The American Association of Suicidology, a suicide prevention organization whose membership includes mental health and public health professionals.

Dan’s Story

My wife Brittany Maynard died on Nov. 1, 2014 of a brain tumor. Ten months before Brittany died, she endured an eight-hour brain surgery and we researched every treatment option that offered any hope of extending her life. But the brain tumor was growing aggressively and it was already demonstrating that her dying process would be terrifying and painful. She was given a prognosis of six months to live. We left our home in California and moved to Oregon so she would have the option of a gentle passing utilizing Oregon’s death-with dignity-law, if it were to become necessary for her.

Brittany and terminally ill individuals like her are not deciding between living and dying. The brain tumor was ending Brittany’s life; the option of living was no longer available to her. She was only deciding between two different methods of dying. One method would be gentle. The other would result in being tortured to death by the intensifying and worsening symptoms she was already experiencing.

Polling shows the option of medical aid in dying receives support from Republicans and Democrats alike. But I have been frustrated by legislators who privately share with me their support for this vital legislation, and then admit they will not vote to support the measure because of pressure from their caucus. That needs to stop. The importance of a terminally ill individual working with their medical team navigating how their final few days on this green earth might play out needs to take precedence over a legislator’s fear of crossing party lines.

My congressman, Mark DeSaulnierMark James DeSaulnierZinke on California fires: 'This is not a debate about climate change' Zinke takes forestry fight to fire-ravaged California Trump tweets on wildfires show ignorance on climate, California and politics MORE, understands Brittany’s plight because he recently faced cancer firsthand. He is doing well and I am his biggest supporter in his continued vigilance against cancer. But he also, unfortunately, is able to contrast Brittany’s gentle death utilizing medical aid in dying with that of the tragic suicide of his own father.

Mark’s Story

My dad was a proud World War II Marine veteran who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

I was the last family member to speak with him before he killed himself on April 20, 1989. He gave no indication of the despair he was in nor did he seek my or anyone else’s help. I ended that last phone call with my dad the same way I had done for years: semper fidelis, keep the faith.

My dad lost faith, because he was unable to ask for help, and he died isolated and alone. Brittany had the love and support of her husband and family. She had the best professional help and medical care to assist with her decision-making process. I wish my dad had had the same.

Medical aid in dying is not suicide; it is an end-of-life medical option for mentally capable, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live, and it is explored in consultation with medical professionals.

We can embrace our humanity in an honest and truthful way, and understand that the end of life is a part of our journey, and how it ends matters – especially when having dignity and peace are possible.

Our Hope

Since Brittany’s death, end-of-life options legislation has been successfully passed in California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., but D.C.’s law is in jeopardy.

Some in Congress have been working to repeal D.C.’s law since before it went into effect on July 17, 2017. Their misguided opposition to this law is in stark contrast to the 73 percent of the nation’s population that supports medical aid in dying. It is our hope that moving forward the House will reject the misguided attempts to repeal medical aid in dying and that the Senate will refrain from taking up any legislative efforts that would meddle with D.C.’s law.

Brittany’s voice helped the nation understand the relief that comes with the option of medical aid in dying as terminally ill patients fight their disease at the end of life. We ask that elected officials allow D.C.’s law to remain intact, and ask themselves ‘who are we to take away the freedom of a pain free passing from terminally ill patients?’

Congressman DeSaulnier represents California’s 11th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dan Diaz is the husband of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman who died in November 2014 from a brain tumor. His advocacy efforts were instrumental in securing the passage of medical aid-in-dying legislation in California.