Terminally Ill Christian Mother Sues for Right-to-Die in California after Being Inspired By Brittany Maynard

( [email protected] ) May 19, 2015 06:29 PM EDT
Christy O'Donnell, Right to Die
Christy O’Donnell, left, discusses her illness with her 20-year-old daughter Bailey sitting beside. O’Donnell is the lead plaintiff suing the state of California for the right to have medical aid in dying. The video was released by Compassion & Choices on May 18, 2015.

Inspired by right-to-die advocate Brittany Maynard, a Christian mother with terminal cancer is asking courts in California to allow her doctor to prescribe medication without criminal prosecution that would end her life.

Christy O'Donnell, 46, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2014 that quickly spread to her brain despite months of aggressive chemotherapy. O'Donnell, who has a 20-year-old daughter, is expected to live only a few months if new chemotherapy treatments fail.

"I have endured excruciating headaches, debilitating nausea, being bed ridden due to fatigue, and suffered muscular skeletal pain in my head and neck despite the compassionate palliative care of my treating physicians and skillful use of available prescription drugs," O'Donnell wrote in a recent op-ed. "The lung cancer will possibly cause me to die by drowning in my own fluids and no medicine exists that can relieve that fear or pain. The scariest part of the brain tumors is losing my ability to communicate with my daughter and say out loud to her 'I love you.'"

Because of this, O'Donnell reached out to Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization working to expand choice at the end of life, to help her fight for a legal prescription medication in her final days to help her die "painlessly and peacefully." In turn, group filed suit in California on behalf of O'Donnell and two other people with terminal or advanced diseases asserting the law should allow the medical practice of aid in dying.

"I am asking the courts for intervention to issue an order so that a doctor can legally prescribe a medication so that I don't have to die painfully, and so that every moment before I die, I don't have to spend afraid and worried about the painful manner in which I'm going to die," O'Donnell said in a separate interview with People Magazine.

O'Donnell, who is a former sergeant in the LAPD, is also a professing Christian, and is urging other believers to refrain from judging her choices.

"I have been a Christian my whole entire life and I am today,"O'Donnell said. "I believe in God, I pray and I have an entire support system that prays for me."

She added, "While I may not agree with those who try to label dying with dignity as 'a sin,' as a Christian, I believe it is not for me to judge someone else or try to limit their religious freedom. Our California laws should not seek to prohibit our fundamental freedoms and should allow all people to die with dignity in California. Until someone can walk a mile in my shoes, it's not their place to stand in the way of this option being available for me."

O'Donnell said she was inspired by the late Brittany Maynard to reach out to Compassion & Choices to help her. Maynard, 29, made headlines last year after she revealed that she and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved to Portland so she could use Oregon's law to end her life on her own terms. She was diagnosed in January 2014 and died on November 1, 2014. In her final months, Maynard campaigned extensively for dignity in dying, becoming the face of Compassion & Choices.

"Like Brittany Maynard, I will fight until my last breath for expanded end-of-life options in California," O'Donnell writes.

Prior to her death, many in the Christian community urged Maynard to reconsider her decision. Kara Tippetts, a Christian author and blogger who died in March after a three-year battle with breast cancer, was among those encouraged Maynard to refrain from ending her own life and instead place her trust in God.

"Dear heart, we simply disagree. Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known," she wrote at the time.

"In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths... That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters - but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed."

"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," Tippett told Maynard.

"Brittany, when we trust Jesus to be the carrier, protector, redeemer of our hearts, death is no longer dying. My heart longs for you to know this truth, this love, this forever living....In my whispering, pleading, loving voice dear heart- will you hear my heart ask you, beg you, plead with you - not to take that pill. Yes, your dying will be hard, but it will not be without beauty. Will you please trust me with that truth?"

KTLA notes that California's Senate Bill 128, the End of Life Option Act, is "closely modeled" after Oregon's Death With Dignity Act and was recently approved by the Senate's Health and Judiciary Committees. The Senate has until June 5 to pass the End of Life Option Act, according to the non-profit. If passed, the Assembly would have until Sept. 11 to approve the legislation.

Numerous faith leaders have condemned the legislation, including Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church. Speaking at conference in April, Warren explained that he opposes the bill not only as a theologian, but also as a father of a son who took his own life after battling mental illness.

 "I oppose this law as a theologian and as the father of a son who took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years," Warren said, referring to his son, Matthew, who took committed suicide in 2013 after struggling with depression for many years.

"The prospect of dying can be frightening," he added. "But we belong to God, and death and life are in God's hands. ... We need to make a radical commitment to be there for those who are dying in our lives."