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No One Should Die in Agony as My Son Did

By Nilsa Centeno Miguel Carrasquillo (L), and his mother, Nilsa Centeno

Click here to read this piece in Spanish. This op-ed was originally published in El Diario on 10/18/16.

My son Miguel Carrasquillo endured an agonizing death from brain cancer in June. He spent his last months of life bravely advocating for laws to authorize medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults.

Five months have passed since Miguelito’s painful death, but I am carrying on the promise I made to him as he took his last breath: to be part of the growing movement to make medical aid in dying a legal option for all Americans.

Miguel

Miguel lived in New York City for several years prior to being diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive, deadly brain tumor, in 2012. Despite bravely enduring excruciatingly painful treatments to try to cure his cancer, it spread to his liver, stomach, testicles and other vital organs.

My son was an old soul with a contagious smile who stood out in his ability to advocate for change, even while in agony. Miguel was only 35 years old when the aggressive brain tumor took his life on June 5, only days before the End of Life Option Act went into effect in California.

End-of-Life Options

During the last months of his life, Miguel spoke to me about his desire to peacefully end his suffering so he could take his last breath holding my hand in the modest home he rented about 30 miles from our beloved San Juan.

I must confess that when Miguel first let me know he was considering medical aid in dying, I emphatically said “No.” But as I watched my son suffer, I came to believe our Lord Jesus Christ had no desire for my child, His child, to suffer needlessly.

As a result, I now believe that people who are dying should have the option of medical aid in dying so that they can pass peacefully without pain if all other options fail to relieve suffering.

Latino Brittany Maynard

I am proud to say Miguel became Compassion & Choices’ first terminally ill Latino advocate. He immediately recorded videos in English and in Spanish urging legislators in U.S. states and territories to pass aid-in-dying bills. Miguel became a voice for Latinos, a community he loved and fought for until his last breath.

Miguelito spoke with pride as he referred to himself as the “Latino Brittany Maynard.” Maynard also was a young, terminally ill person with brain cancer, whose advocacy inspired California to pass aid-in-dying legislation after she moved from her home there to Oregon in 2014 to utilize its death-with-dignity law at age 29.

“I don’t have the resources that Brittany had to move to a state like California,” Miguel said. “I have to live and die with this horrible pain, seizures and electric shocks all over my body.”

Family

My son was not a sinner for wanting to die peacefully surrounded by his loved ones.

He simply hoped to end his suffering, not out of despair or depression, but to maintain some comfort in his final days so that he could pass peacefully.

Miguel’s Last Wish

I stood strong as Miguel completed an interview with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos just 10 days before his death. To his credit, Ramos cut the interview short when he noticed a sleepy and confused Miguel on the screen. “This is one of the most difficult interviews I have had to do.” Ramos posted on Twitter a few days later.

When the interview ended and the video team left, Miguel held my arm, as he normally did to avoid a fall as he guided me to his beloved fish tank that adorned his apartment.

We spoke about God and fear about his impending death.

My son’s voice was frail, and his words were mumbled. Yet he miraculously managed to record this cell phone video in English and Spanish to urge people to keep fighting for his legacy.

Miguel died 10 days after the video, without the end-of-life option he fought for.

Although his voice has gone silent, mine has not.

Nilsa Centeno is a single mother and secretary who lives in Cidra, Puerto Rico.