By the time you read this piece, I will be dead.
But unlike Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who inspired the passage of California’s new End of Life Option Act, I am unlikely to die peacefully from my brain tumor as she did after moving with her family to Oregon to utilize its death-with-dignity law.
I did not live in a U.S. state or territory that gives terminally ill adults like me the option to get a prescription for aid-in-dying medication I could decide to take to die peacefully, as Brittany did, to end unbearable suffering.
As a result, I lived my last days with every horror that Brittany feared most: mind-splitting headaches, blackouts, blindness, convulsions and electric shocks from the incurable brain tumor that spread to my liver, stomach, testicles and other vital organs.
I didn’t want the tumor to dictate how I would die. I wanted to die the way I lived, with purpose and intention. I wanted to die gently and avoid the terrifyingly painful death that doctors said I would experience.
My life didn’t have to end this way. I did not commit a crime to live in a prison with a sentence of intolerable suffering.
Unfortunately, medical aid in dying is not an authorized option in my native Puerto Rico, where my Catholic parents cared for me during the last days of my life.
I was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly form of brain cancer, in 2012. I endured invasive, agonizing procedures to unsuccessfully try to cure the cancer. And the morphine connected to my sciatic nerve did little to alleviate my pain.
For over a year, I watched Brittany Maynard’s videos. I researched moving to one of the states that authorize medical aid in dying — Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont or California, where the End of Life Option law took effect on June 9.
But my family didn’t have the resources Brittany did to move 2,000 miles or more to one of these five states. I had to live and die with this horrible pain.
It is clear we have an issue in our country, where it is not affordable or practical for the vast majority of terminally ill people to move to another state far away from their home, establish residency and find a medical team in order to die peacefully.
We shouldn’t have to die with unbearable pain. We shouldn’t have to suffer.
So we must take action. We must email our legislators and urge them to support broader end-of-life options.
We must urge our doctors to support their patients’ last wishes, whether they agree with them or not.
And we Latinos must drop our cultural taboo around discussing death and the option of medical aid in dying.
I had numerous conversations with God throughout my life, especially during my illness. I could not understand why people judged me as a sinner for wanting to die peacefully rather than enduring severe seizures and excruciating pain until the end of my life.
As a Catholic, I was taught it is wrong for anyone to judge someone else. Until you’ve walked a mile in another person’s shoes, you should not stand in the way of them having this option.
“Latino Brittany Maynard”
I was proud to learn I was Compassion & Choices first terminally ill Latino advocate for medical aid in dying when I recorded videos in English and in Spanish to urge legislators in U.S. states and territories, including Illinois and my native Puerto Rico, to pass medical aid-in-dying bills.
Between agonizing headaches, electric shocks and convulsions, I gave TV and print interviews, and wrote op-eds published by numerous media outlets demanding the option of medical aid in dying.
I gave my last interview to Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, which aired May 29.
Some media outlets referred to me as the “Latino Brittany Maynard.”
Fighting for options
I am no longer alive to tell my story.
But my mama will not go silent. She will continue to be a loud, powerful voice so other terminally ill Latinos like myself hopefully don’t have to suffer as I did. We need to keep fighting and fighting until somebody listens to us.
Miguel Carrasquillo was a 35-year-old chef who lived in New York City from 2004 to 2006. He wrote this op-ed two days before he died from cancer on June 5 and requested it be published posthumously.