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More National Groups Back Validity of Medical Aid in Dying

Dr. Yanira Cruz

Compassion & Choices is pleased to have two additional influential authorities affirm our mission and message in the past month, joining a growing list of noble allies.

On October 24, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) announced it supports laws giving terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering. “Most people won’t need medical aid in dying, but laws authorizing this option benefit many terminally ill adults by spurring conversations with their physicians and loved ones about all end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care, and better utilization of them,” said NHCOA CEO and President Dr. Yanira Cruz.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., NHCOA is the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families and their caregivers. The group reaches millions of Latinos each year, working to ensure the Hispanic community is better understood and fairly represented in U.S. policies.

“The support of the National Hispanic Council on Aging is a loud and powerful voice that once again demonstrates the need for the medical practice of aid in dying,” said Compassion & Choices Chief Program Officer Kim Callinan. “It is a critical element of patient-centered care because it exemplifies a medical system that recognizes that patients should be the primary decision-maker in how they live their final days.”

Both national and state polls show strong support for medical aid in dying across the ethnic, political and religious spectrum, including 69 percent of Latino Americans nationwide.

The following week, The American Association of Suicidology (AAS), a highly regarded organization focused on suicide prevention and research, issued a statement concluding medical aid in dying “is distinct from the behavior that has been traditionally and ordinarily described as ‘suicide.’”

“In suicide, a life that could have continued indefinitely is cut short,” said Colleen Creighton, executive director of AAS, whose membership includes mental health and public health professionals. “PAD [physician aid in dying] is not a matter of life or death; it is a matter of a foreseeable death occurring a little sooner but in an easier way, in accord with the patient’s wishes and values, vs. death later in a potentially more painful and protracted manner. In PAD, the person with a terminal illness does not necessarily want to die; he or she typically wants desperately to live but cannot do so; the disease will take its course.”

In fact, the specific statutes authorizing medical aid in dying in the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington already stipulate that: “Actions taken in accordance with [the Act] shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide …”

“The American Association of Suicidology is dedicated to preventing suicide, but this has no bearing on the reflective, anticipated death a physician may legally help a dying patient facilitate, whether called … physician-assisted dying, or medical aid in dying,” concluded Creighton. “In fact, we believe that the term ‘physician-assisted suicide’ constitutes a critical reason why these distinct death categories are so often conflated, and should be deleted from use.”