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Latino Leadership Council

We would like to introduce you to our Latino Leadership Council, a group of leaders who will help guide new work to reach and engage Hispanics in the United States, territories and various islands.

It is no secret that Latinos often avoid conversation about end-of-life care. Ironically, we often experience the highest rates of life-threatening illnesses, yet we are the least likely to complete advance directives or discuss with our loved ones under which circumstances, if any, we want to receive medical interventions to prolong life or an agonizing dying process.

However, we can address these disparities, by communicating with our doctors and loved ones about, if we become too sick to speak for ourselves, whether we would want to be kept “alive” with aggressive, debilitating treatments that only prolong the dying process.

Mauricio Ochmann, Actor, California

Mauricio Ochmann is a Mexican actor known as “Chema Venegas” in the popular Telemundo telenovelas El Chema (nickname for “Jose Maria”) and El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of the Skies). He recently broke records with the international film Hazlo Como Hombre (Do it Like a Man) in which he stars with his actress wife, Aislinn Derbez.

In Oct. 2014, Ochmann became the first celebrity in Hollywood to publicly endorse Compassion & Choices’ campaign to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation in California at a time when many Latinos were reluctant to engage in conversations about end-of-life care. In 2016, Mauricio recorded a 15-second public service announcement in Spanish that we released last March to urge Latinos to support the passage of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act.

“As Latinos, we learn early on to accept death because of our culture’s reverence to celebrate the lives of our beloved dead. However, we are afraid to talk about death itself. We must honor our dying loved ones in their final days and give them the opportunity to control the timing and manner of their passing.”

Resources

Mauricio Ochmann interviewed by Telemundo in Los Angeles
Hoy coverage of Mauricio Ochmann in Los Angeles
National coverage of Mauricio Ochmann on Telemundo
People en Español coverage of Mauricio Ochmann’s PSA supporting medical aid in dying
Mauricio Ochmann’s work with Compassion & Choices is featured in on Telemundo’s Don Francisco Presenta

Reverend Dr. Ignacio Castuera, Minister, California

Reverend Castuera is a minister at the United Methodist Church in Claremont, California. He is a civil and human rights activist who worked on the California campaign to pass the End of Life Option Act.

A former Compassion & Choices board member, Rev. Castuera has championed numerous social issues that have grown quickly into wider acceptance. He was the national chaplain for Planned Parenthood for six years, married gay couples on national and international television, and has been a strong voice in the movement to authorize the option of medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults. Rev. Castuera holds a Doctor of Religion degree from Claremont School of Theology and taught Contemporary Theology at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology for 25 years.

“As a minister, I have had the privilege to counsel many people as they prepare for the end of their lives. I learned that many preferred to die with dignity rather than live with excruciating pain and unnecessary suffering from a terminal illness.”

Resources:

Reverend Castuera’s editorial about end-of-life planning

Dolores Huerta, Civil Rights Activist, California

Dolores Huerta is an iconic civil rights activist, president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and cofounder of the United Farm Workers Union. She has won numerous national awards, including the the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Her support of the End of Life Option Act in California was critical important to the passage of the law because she encouraged Latino legislators who were hesitant to support the bill in 2015.
Dolores’ advocacy was inspired by helping watching her mother’s suffering as she died from terminal breast cancer that had spread throughout her body.

“I have spent my life fighting to empower workers, women and disenfranchised communities. I advocate for and support passing medical aid-in-dying laws because they have strict safeguards to protect vulnerable people from abuse and coercion, while honoring the fundamental human right to decide how and when we die, when death is inevitable.”

Resources:

Sacramento Bee coverage of Dolores Huerta lobbying for California’s End of Life Option Act
Dolores Huerta’s op-ed for the Sacramento Bee
Dolores Huerta’s op-ed to the San Jose Mercury News
Dolores Huerta’s op-ed to La Opinión

Robert Olvera, M.D., California

Dr. Robert Olvera is a retired physician in Orange County, whose advocacy for medical aid in dying was inspired by watching helplessly as his daughter Emily Rose Olvera suffered for 17 years from a rare form of leukemia. During the last months of her life, Emily Rose suffered in agony from excruciating headaches that no painkiller could alleviate, was blind, confined to her bed, and gasping for breath.

Dr. Olvera, a devout Catholic, pledged to fight for end-of-life care options in memory of his daughter.

“I understand the desperate need for medical aid-in-dying laws because I wish my 25-year-old daughter, Emily Rose, had this option. Emily Rose should have had the option to request a prescription for a medication to prevent the four-month agony that ended on April 26, 2014.”

Resources:

Op-ed by Dr. Olvera for the Orange County Register
La Opiníon story about Dr. Olvera and his work to pass California’s End of Life Option Act
Story about Dr. Olvera and his work in California for KVEA
EFE story about Dr. Olvera and his work to pass California’s End of Life Option Act
Hoy Los Angeles story about Dr. Olvera and his work to pass California’s End of Life Option Act

Dan Diaz, California

Dan Diaz is the husband of Brittany Maynard, who died in November 2014 from a brain tumor. The couple moved from California to Oregon, one of four states at that time that had authorized medical aid in dying so Brittany could get the prescription for aid-in-dying medication to ensure she would have a gentle dying process instead of an agonizing one.

As a result of Brittany’s story, in 2015 legislators introduced bills to authorize medical aid in dying in California, 24 other states as well as Washington, D.C. Dan advocates for expanding the availability of end-of-life care options for terminally ill, mentally capable individuals. Dan’s efforts were instrumental in securing the passage of the End of Life Option Act in California, and his efforts to advance similar bills continue in the other states across the country.

“I promised Brittany that I’d keep fighting to expand end-of-life care options for terminally ill individuals across the country. Will you join me?”

Resources:

Jorge Ramos’s exclusive interview with Dan Diaz for Al Punto
Jorge Ramos interview with Dan Diaz for Al Punto
“Brittany’s Last Moments” Univision interview with Dan Diaz
Dan Diaz op-ed for the East Bay Times
LatinoCalifornia.com editorializes about Dan Diaz’s story and work to pass California’s End of Life Option Act

Father Luis Barrios, New York

Father Luis Barrios is a priest at Iglesia Episcopal Santa Cruz/Holyrood Episcopal Church and a professor at John Jay College in New York City.

“I don’t have a problem with the notion of death, because death is a part of life. It’s how we face it and the way we go through the dying process that makes a difference.”

Resources:

El Diario: “New York Religious Supports Assisted Death Act”
Father Luis Barrios op-ed for El Diario

Pastor Sergio Camacho, California

Pastor Sergio Camacho is the Latino ministry pastor at Lancaster United Methodist Church.

“We all need to accept the fact that the spiritual truth for each individual will vary and that the end-of-life option each terminally ill dying person chooses needs to be honored and respected.”

Resources:

Pastor Sergio Camacho’s op-ed to California’s Daily Bulletin
Hoy Los Angeles featuring Pastor Sergio Camacho
Pastor Sergio Camacho’s op-ed to the Los Angeles Daily Times

Nilsa Centeno, Puerto Rico

Nilsa Centeno is the mother of the late Miguel Carrasquillo, a 35-year-old former chef in Chicago and New York who died in his native Puerto Rico of brain cancer in June 2016. He became Compassion & Choices’ first bilingual advocate when he recorded videos in English and in Spanish to urge his fellow Latinos to support giving terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying.

Miguel proudly referred to himself as the “Latino Brittany Maynard” because he was inspired by Brittany Maynard’s advocacy. Unfortunately, Miguel died without this option to end his agonizing pain.

Since Miguel’s death, six states with large Latino populations have either passed or introduced laws to authorize medical aid in dying: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Latino lawmakers are sponsors of legislation in four of those states: Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey and New York. Thanks in part to Miguel’s advocacy, Latino support for medical aid-in-dying is at 69 percent nationwide.

Nilsa, a devout Catholic, became an advocate for Compassion & Choices shortly before her son’s death to fulfill the promise she made to him: she would urge Latino lawmakers and Latino voters to support medical aid-in-dying legislation in Puerto Rico and throughout the country.

“My son Miguel was was not a sinner for wanting to die peacefully. He simply wanted end to his suffering, not out of despair or depression, but to maintain some comfort in his final days so that he could pass gently.”

Resources:

Coverage of Nilsa and Miguel

Irisaida ‘Isa’ Mendez, Florida

Irisaida ‘Isa’ Mendez is a seasoned multicultural communications and development consultant for leading corporations looking to penetrate the Latin American and US Hispanic markets. She has held a variety of leadership roles at Make-A-Wish Foundation and San Jorge Children’s Hospital in Puerto Rico, Spirit Airlines and the American Red Cross. Her trademark is to create strategies that promote philanthropic interest for individuals and the corporate world.

“Working closely with cancer patients changed my perspective on the fight for living, the process of dying, dignity, suffering and the impact this process has on our loved ones. As Latinos we fear talking about the death process, we don’t even like to prepare for it. Our strong religious background makes us believe that it is all about fighting to stay alive even if it means giving up living.”

Dr. Yanira Cruz, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Yanira Cruz is president and chief executive officer of the National Hispanic Council on Aging in Washington, D.C. She earned a Master’s degree and a Doctorate degree in public health with a specialty in global health from The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

“My mother would have wanted the option of medical aid in dying. Latino Americans need and want these humane laws.”

Resources:

Dr. Yanira Cruz’s op-ed to The Hill: All Americans should have access to all end-of-life care options

Maria D. Ulloa Otero, New Mexico

Maria D. Ulloa Otero is an immigrant, community leader, health educator and grassroots activist committed to social justice who empowers communities to be active in their own healthcare. She has been a public health professional for more than 20 years and co-founded Nuestra Salud, a community-based organization whose mission is to reduce health disparities affecting Hispanic communities in New Mexico through research, training and outreach.

Maria works with minority populations to provide health education on maternal child health, reproductive rights, tobacco-use prevention, chronic-disease risk factors and end-of-life options. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals and lay media. She has provided numerous interviews, in English and Spanish, addressing the entire trajectory of public health and received national and international awards for her professional accomplishments.

Maria earned a Bachelor of Science degree from New Mexico State University and has dedicated her entire career to dismantling oppression and empowering communities to have a voice.

“I believe having medical aid in dying as an option at the end of life is a basic human right. A terminally ill adult facing imminent suffering should not be denied a peaceful and dignified death.”