My name is Isaiah Wilson and I testified before the D.C. city council in 2015 in support of the Death with Dignity Act. As a proud Black gay man who happens to also work professionally as an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, with a special focus on the LGBTQ communities of color, I have fought to ensure equality for not just for people from my community, but for all Americans. I believe that medical aid in dying is a fundamental right that everyone in a free society should have.
Under the aid-in-dying legislation, there are safeguards in place to make sure no one from vulnerable populations are negatively affected or subject to any type of coercion when they chose this option. The claim that minority populations would be vulnerable to malfeasance is unwarranted and has not been seen in over 17 years of history in Oregon. Dignity means something different to everyone, personally for me, it means not suffering during my final days on this Earth.
It is important to me that legislators know that death with dignity is not suicide or assisted suicide and it is inaccurate to categorize it as such. Unlike suicide, if terminal adults had the choice to live, they would. Suicide is about choosing death over life, but a terminally ill person is actively dying and provides a choice of one kind of death over another. Assisted suicide statutes are designed to stop people from helping mentally unbalanced, despondent people from violently killing themselves. Neither the statute nor the term accurately applies to terminally ill people who want to live. In fact, “Assisted Suicide” has remained illegal in every state where death with dignity is authorized; these laws consistently and purposefully distinguish between these two acts.
Our nation’s history is one of progress with an ever-present march towards justice. We have witnessed political activism in movements for civil rights for African Americans, women, disabled people and LGBTQ people. All of these social movements created change because people had the autonomy and self-empowerment to get out in the streets, organize and take their democracy into their own hands. It is in this spirit that I stand in support of this legislation with the knowledge that our final, and possibly most important, contribution may very well be extending that self-empowerment to the final days of our lives. We always speak of extending living, when often all we are doing is extending dying. It should not be about the quantity of life but the quality as well!
I want people to understand that this legislation is truly important and personal to me. Nearly six years ago, I found out that I was living with HIV. Every day since that diagnosis I have worked to take control of my health by making the right decisions in regards to my healthcare and overall wellness. As a result I am survivor living with HIV, maintaining an undetectable viral load, and quite frankly thriving in life. As someone who recognizes the gift of life, I want more options for my healthcare decisions, not less at the end of life. Knowing that I can make decisions – in my right mind– about my end of life choices gives me great comfort and peace of mind.
I was raised to live life to the fullest – as an autonomous, independent person with the freedom to determine my life’s path; I would like the same control at the end of my existence.