March, 2016, I was on a plane heading to Puerto Rico to meet Miguel Carrasquillo, a dying young man who was going to film his story for Compassion & Choices.
This interview would become Miguel’s last plea in English and in Spanish to urge legislators in his native Puerto Rico and his former home states of Illinois and New York to pass laws authorizing medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults to end unbearable suffering. A Catholic, Miguel proudly referred to himself as “the Latino Brittany Maynard.”
Exactly one year later, People en Español published a beautiful two-page spread about Miguel, highlighting the fact that 69 percent of Latinos now support medical aid in dying since his agonizing death last year, as well as detailing our Latino efforts in New York and across the nation. The story also notes the support for medical aid in dying by Mexican actor Mauricio Ochmann, who recorded PSAs for Compassion & Choices promoting this palliative end-of-life option.
The anniversary of Miguel’s death is bittersweet for me. It’s a reminder of the friend I lost and the breakthrough Compassion & Choices has made among Latinos, a community with the higher rates of illness than the general population, yet one least likely to talk about death, complete advance directives or discuss medical interventions with loved ones.
Miguel died in Puerto Rico from an aggressive brain tumor that caused severe headaches, blackouts and electric shocks throughout his body. Sadly, he did not have the option of medical aid in dying he so desperately wanted to peacefully end his suffering.
There is no doubt that Miguel’s painful death is making a difference among Latinos and the way they think about medical aid in dying.
A very powerful story on CNN en Español credited Compassion & Choices for advancing the medical aid-in-dying movement in the United States.
On election night, when Colorado voters passed the End of Life Options Act, both men and women, Hispanics and whites, and people with and without college degrees said they backed the proposal, according to exit polling conducted for The Associated Press and television networks in Colorado.
We launched a statewide bilingual campaign in Colorado to educate terminally ill Coloradans, families and medical providers about the benefits and requirements of the state’s medical aid-in-dying law. The campaign mirrors one we launched in California after the legislature passed a similar law and in New York in January following the introduction of legislation that we are advocating lawmakers pass.
We will continue our educational outreach to Hispanics, Latinos, medical professionals and healthcare organizations throughout the country.
It is a promise I made to Miguel.
I spoke to Emmy Award-winning Univision anchor and journalist Jorge Ramos, often called “the Latino Walter Cronkite.”
Jorge, the voice of about 12 million Hispanics in the United States, recalled his final interview with Miguel via satellite, a few days before his death.
We spoke of Miguel’s horrific headaches, electric shocks and blindness from the brain cancer that spread to his liver, stomach, testicles and other vital organs.
I emailed Jorge to inform him of the recent Latino survey.
He responded right away.
“I know it’s hard to be without Miguel,” he stated in the email. “But you have to know that your voice and his voice are changing many lives … You do not know how many people write and stop me to tell me that they saw the interview with Miguel, and that changed their lives and their way of planning their last days.”
Life without Miguel hurts. But as tears roll down my cheeks and I listen to that old Christopher Cross song, ‘Think of Laura,’ I take those lyrics to heart.
Taken away so young
Taken away without a warning
I know Miguel is here.
And I cry no more.
I know he’d want it that way ...
– Patricia A. González-Portillo, National Latino Communications and Constituency Director
Miguel recorded two videos for Compassion & Choices, in English and in Spanish, pleading for the option to end his suffering peacefully.
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