Inside a Los Angeles woman’s decision to die with ‘dignity’

California’s end-of-life option law allows certain terminally ill patients to end their lives with a lethal dose of drug. That’s the choice Gabriella Walsh made after being diagnosed with aggressive cancer. LA Times reporter Marisa Gerber and photojournalist Dania Maxwell shared her story, capturing the final weeks of her life. They joined host Lisa McRee on “LA Times Today.”

In January 2022, the End-of-Life Option Act was updated to streamline some processes and make it a little easier for people like Gabriella to take advantage of the option to end their life. Maxwell spoke about the life and death of Gabriella.

“Gabriella was a really fun person to get to know because she had all of these life experiences. She was born in Chile and came to the United States when she was quite young and attracted all these different types of people and friends. She really lived her life and knew quite early on, years before her diagnosis, that if ever faced with a terminal diagnosis, she would likely choose death with dignity,” Maxwell explained.

Gerber explained how Gabriella was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram showed tumors in her breast.

“Before she knew it, she sat down with a radiation oncologist who explained to her that she had aggressive breast cancer in her right breast. In the coming weeks, she had a PET scan and this cancer quickly metastasized to her bones. And she had 15 tumors in her sternum, hip. The day she found out, the cancer had already metastasized to her right arm, spreading to her lymph node. So it was a very, very fast schedule,” Gerber said.

Gabriella has hired a death doula to help ease her final days. The doula provided care, emotional support and companionship while Gabriella lived with cancer.

Before the day of her death arrived, Gabriella’s friends came to Los Angeles from all over the world to spend time with her. Gerber shared stories of Gabriella’s final days with her friends.

“In his final weeks, they got an Airbnb and hung out at the beach and went out to eat. She often spoke there of live funerals. She could hear things that people would normally say for a eulogy. And she was able to tell them how much they had meant to her over the years,” Gerber said.

Maxwell captured Gabriella’s final moments on camera. She spoke about the experience and the impact Gabriella’s story had on everyone present.

“When I looked at Gabriela that day, she felt very complete, like she had lived her life and was done. Photographing her takes the medicine really affirmed that for me. She was very ready for this choice. There was no hesitation on her part. Of course, it is very difficult to photograph something like that. It is very delicate how we come into this world and how we leave it. But I think Gabriela really wanted us as readers to think about our choices, that we have authority, and how we die,” Maxwell said.

Click the arrow above to watch the full interview.

Watch “LA Times Today” at 7 and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday on Spectrum News 1 and the Spectrum News app.

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