Latinos joined forces today to urge support for improved access to the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act that authorizes terminally ill Coloradans to utilize medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering.
An overwhelming majority of Coloradans (65%) voted for the End-of-Life Options Act in 2016, including a majority of Latinos. The law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s first annual report about the law released earlier this month shows it is working, but there is still work to be done to improve access to it.
Patricia A. González-Portillo, national Latino constituency director for Compassion & Choices said, “Barriers to access continue to exist, including the misperception that healthcare facilities can prohibit doctors from prescribing medical aid-in-dying prescriptions to their terminally ill patients who want this end-of-life care option.”
Supporters from different cultures and faiths gathered at the Rotunda of the State Capitol with a prayer led by Rabbi Adam Morris of Temple Micah in Denver, who has counseled and prayed with people as they prepared for the end of their lives.
“No patient, physician or pharmacist has to participate in this law,” he said. “But we should do everything we can to help eligible individuals who want to access the law do so and not impede physicians and pharmacists who want to help provide this end-of-life care option.”
Representative Joann Ginal, a long-time advocate for medical aid in dying, made the point that, “Terminal illness doesn’t discriminate, which is why it’s so important for everyone to have a conversation with their doctor about end-of-life options.”
Dr. Charles Hamlin, M.D., a retired surgeon, spoke about the role of doctors in end-of-life discussions. “It’s not just patients who need to start these important conversations; it’s up to physicians to make sure those they care for understand their options.”
Dan Diaz, husband of the late Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian woman who had terminal brain cancer and advocated for medical aid-in-dying laws, spoke about their move to Oregon in 2014 to utilize its Death with Dignity Act. California did not have such a law at the time, but they spent her last vacation in Colorado before she died because it was her favorite place.
“Brittany and Miguel are now at peace and it brings me solace to know that neither one is suffering anymore,” he said. “But the contrast between their deaths should serve as a reminder of the importance of this vital legislation.”
Nilsa Centeno held back tears as she spoke of her only son, Miguel Carrasquillo, a former New Yorker whose horrific suffering from brain cancer prompted him to record bilingual interviews in English and in Spanish for Compassion & Choices urging lawmakers nationwide to approve this end of life option. Miguel died in 2016 in his native Puerto Rico. He was only 35-years-old.
“My son, Miguel did not have access to medical aid in dying, but Coloradans have that option and they should do everything in their power to make sure that dying people don’t have to go through a lengthy process,” said Nilsa. “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.”
Latino support has increased dramatically since MIguel advocated for medical aid-in-dying laws nationwide.
Thanks to the advocacy of Latinos, including civil rights advocate Dolores Huerta, activist, actor and director Edward James Olmos and Mexican actor Mauricio Ochmann, today 69 percent of Hispanics support medical aid in dying.
In addition, six states with a large Latino population 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. And more Latino organizations throughout the country, like the Hispanic Council on Aging, the Latino Commission on AIDS and the Hispanic Health Network, are coming forward in support.
Currently, six states have explicitly authorized medical aid in dying (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), along with the District of Columbia. Collectively, these seven jurisdictions represent 18 percent of the nation’s population and 30 percent of the Latino population. Across these jurisdictions, we have a combined 40 years of experience safely using this end-of-life care option.