This February, the newly formed African-American Leadership Council met in person for the first time in Washington, D.C,. to continue their work to improve end-of-life care for African-Americans. The council represents diverse backgrounds including faith leaders, physicians, nurses, social workers and other community leaders from around the country who bring a wide array of perspectives and experiences to the council.
The council’s main goals are to change the way the African-American community experiences the end of life by redefining what end-of-life choice means to the African-American community, including changing perceptions of hospice and palliative care. They will also develop strategies for how Compassion & Choices can further engage African-Americans.
African-American patients are more likely to have their pain underestimated and left untreated, more likely to receive aggressive care at the end of life, and less likely to have advance directives than their white counterparts. The council discussed why these disparities exist — whether that is a lack of education around of end-of-life care or hesitation caused from distrust of the medical system.
After a thoughtful discussion, the council visited Capitol Hill to meet with legislators from the Congressional Black Caucus and their staff about protecting D.C.’s Death with Dignity law and the dangers of the Department of Health and Human Services’ new Religious Freedom Division. They also conveyed the importance of improving awareness around end-of-life care for African-Americans. Overall, the staff the council met with in the House and Senate were interested in building a relationship and helping their black constituents receive better end-of-life care.
The evening ended at dinner with C&C board members, supporters and local partners who acknowledged the council for their time and dedication. Also, they recognized former board member Reverend Doctor Paul Smith, a leader in the end-of-life choice movement. Rev. Dr. Smith is pastor emeritus of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York. His advocacy is an inspiration to the council and serves as a model for their future work. The retreat wrapped the next morning after an engaging discussion around Compassion & Choices’ Strategic Impact Committee. The two-day event was highly successful, and the group is poised to continue its great work on improving the end of life for all Americans.