She was young, beautiful and terminally ill with a brain tumor so invasive and painful she chose to end her life in what advocates call "Death with Dignity." The prescription for the lethal dose of barbiturates Brittany Maynard took was written by Dr. Eric Walsh of Oregon, where the protocol has been legal for 18 years. He will speak for the first time about the controversial practice on 60 Minutes in a report by CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook to be broadcast Sunday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT.
"When somebody is facing the end of their life, shouldn't they be in control?" asks Walsh, who has prescribed the lethal medication to 19 others. "Shouldn't I be able to help them when they're suffering and the burden of their suffering becomes intolerable to them?"
Maynard, 29 at the time of her death, has become a symbol in a growing movement advocating that terminally ill people should have control over how they die. Several organizations, including Compassion & Choices, are pushing to pass laws to allow that. Maynard was experiencing chronic pain and seizures and was terrified of going blind or suffering a stroke from the tumor. So she moved from California to Oregon in 2014 to take advantage of the law there allowing a doctor to aid her death. The practice has since been signed into law in California, but will not go into effect until June. It's currently not legal in 45 other states.
LaPook speaks to Maynard's husband, Dan Diaz, who defends the practice, and also to Dr. William Toffler, who works alongside Walsh in the same hospital. He worries doctors may not know patients well enough to know if they are depressed. He also believes the Oregon law is flawed because it requires no tracking of patients once they get the drugs. There have been about 30 reported complications among the approximately 1,000 people who have been prescribed the overdoses. But Toffler is against the protocol for a more basic reason.
"We are no longer providers for the health and well-being of patients until they...die naturally...we're now actually hastening death by giving people massive overdoses. This is an inherent conflict of interest for doctors," he tells LaPook.
Californian Elizabeth Wallner, suffering from colon cancer for four years, sued the state for the right to end her life with drugs. She not only wants to escape suffering at the end of her life, but spare her 20-year-old son the burden of seeing that suffering. "I don't believe in a God that would want me to suffer and struggle to death," says Wallner, who says she was raised Catholic. She points out that she does understand another argument against Aid in Dying, that there is beauty in the struggle. But she recalls looking at her son's face while he helped her during her struggle. "And I just realized in that moment that I can only take so much and my family can only take so much."