Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Omega Silva

Omega Silva’s decades of medical work, as well as her personal battles with cancer, convinced her that having the option to end suffering is of paramount importance.

Dr. Omega Silva speaking at news conference in support of D.C. Death with Dignity Act.

Compassion & Choices mourns the death on April 2, 2020, of Dr. Omega Silva, a retired Washington, D.C., physician who lived with three cancer diagnoses. She taught and practiced medicine for over 50 years in Washington DC and vicinity, she served as the first female president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and was the former president of the American Medical Women’s Association. She was a highly respected and effective spokesperson for the Compassion & Choices’ campaign to pass the Washington, D.C., Death with Dignity Act and testified in support of the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act. Dr. Silva was a supporter of MAID to the very end. 

“In contrast to many other doctors, I never felt a physician’s only goal is to keep people alive no matter what. I think you need to look at the quality of life they have and what they think life is. Maybe life isn’t being on a respirator or having an NG [nasogastric] tube just to stay here a few more days,” she explained in a 2018 interview. “It was early on in my career that I came to grips with death, but a lot of physicians would rather not talk about death at all. I had to confront death early in my family too: My uncle got shot in his laundromat, and then his wife died shortly after that, and even their son died — he got cancer. What in the world is a 23-year-old doing with kidney cancer that kills him within a month or two? It happens though.”

Dr. Silva provided written and verbal testimony to lawmakers, recorded public service announcements for Compassion & Choices to educate D.C. residents about end-of-life care options, and participated in the National Academy of Sciences’ workshops on medical aid in dying. But she also had numerous other interests. Once an aspiring fashion designer, she made all her own clothes from the time she was in junior high until she was a second-year resident. And she and her husband, both fond of trains, belong to the National Railway Historical Society and rode the rails across the United States and Canada. “I’ve done a lot that has nothing to do with medicine!”

“Dr. Silva’s tenacity to advocate for medical aid in dying, while she was dying and enduring debilitating weekly chemo treatments for months on end was inspiring,”  said D.C. campaign director Donna Smith. “We are forever indebted to her for helping us pass the D.C. Death with Dignity Act and defending it from congressional opponents’ repeated attempts to repeal it, but more importantly for the role model she was to all of us.  She was a brillant, outspoken and courageous person. She will be missed.”