The mother of a right-to-die advocate responded angrily to criticism from the Vatican of Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life early under an Oregon law written to let terminally ill patients die on their own terms.
Days after Maynard’s November 1 death at age 29, the Vatican’s top bioethics official called her choice “reprehensible” and said physician-assisted suicide should be condemned.
Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, issued a sharp written response Tuesday. She said the comments from Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, came as the family was grieving and were “more than a slap in the face.”
Her response was made through Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group that Maynard worked with in her last days.
Maynard suffered from terminal brain cancer and in the spring was given six months to live. She moved to Oregon from Northern California with her husband and parents because Oregon allows terminally ill patients to die using lethal medications prescribed by a doctor.
Maynard used her story to speak out for the right of the terminally ill to end their lives on their own terms. A media campaign by her and Compassion & Choices sparked a national debate.
Five US states allow patients to seek aid in dying: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.
Some religious groups and social conservatives, including the American Life League, also have criticized Maynard’s decision.
Pope Francis denounced the right-to-die movement Saturday, saying euthanasia is a sin against God and creation. Thinking of euthanasia as an act of dignity provides a “false sense of compassion,” Francis said. He didn’t refer specifically to Maynard’s case.
In the letter, Ziegler called her terminally ill daughter’s decision to die a human rights issue. Maynard’s family has since moved back to California.
“My twenty-nine-year-old daughter’s choice to die gently rather than suffer physical and mental degradation and intense pain does not deserve to be labelled as reprehensible by strangers a continent away who do not know her or the particulars of her situation,” Ziegler wrote.
Ziegler encouraged people to consider all the options when faced with an incurable, debilitating, painful disease.
“The ‘culture of cure’ has led to a fairy tale belief that doctors can always fix our problems,” she wrote.
On Thursday, the day Maynard would have turned 30, Compassion & Choices plans to release a video she made before her death. The group also will call for expanded laws that allow the terminally ill to end their lives.
Oregon was the first state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient of sound mind who makes the request. The patient must swallow the drug without help; it is illegal for a doctor to administer it.
More than 750 people in Oregon had used the law to die as of December 31, 2013. The median age of the deceased is 71. Only six were younger than 35.