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State Lawmakers, Supporters Hold Ceremony to Honor Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos)

Candle lighting honors deceased New Yorkers who suffered at life’s end

(New York, NY – Nov. 1, 2016) To recognize Day of the Dead, Compassion & Choices today honored the memory of deceased advocates of legislation to allow terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable.

“These brave advocates spent their last months of life advocating for laws to authorize medical aid in dying despite the horrors of their terminal diseases,” said Corinne Carey, New York state director for Compassion & Choices. “And today, as we celebrate and embrace death as a part of the human experience in a colorful and festive celebration, we commit to make medical aid in dying an additional end-of-life option for terminally ill adults in New York.”

Supporters from different cultures, some with painted faces, kicked off the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebration with a procession led by Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Nueva York outside El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem. Inside was a colorful and decorated altar surrounded by photos of the late Miguel Carrasquillo, Nohemí Garza, Youssef Cohen, William Stubing and Jay Kallio – all New Yorkers. A moment of silence to honor them was followed after the lighting of candles.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act made history in May when the New York State Assembly Health Committee passed shortly after its introduction. The bill will be reintroduced in the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.

“This compassionate bill ensures that we honor those who fought for legislation to expand end-of-life care options for terminally ill adults with appropriate protections to prevent any type abuse and misuse,” said Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz. “Medical aid in dying is an end-of-life option that is a matter of personal freedom and liberty. We need to stop criminalizing medical aid in dying and honor the wishes of terminally ill individuals.”

nilsa-centeno-mother-of-miguel-carrasquillo

Nilsa Centeno mother of Miguel Carrasquillo

Nilsa Centeno spoke of her only son, Miguel Carrasquillo, a former New Yorker whose horrific suffering from brain cancer prompted him to record a bilingual video for Compassion & Choices urging lawmakers nationwide to give terminally ill adults the option of medical aid in dying. Miguel died June 5 in his native Puerto Rico. He was only 35-years-old.

“I have found solace in the promise I made to my only son, Miguel, during his last days,” Nilsa said. “I promised him that I would fight to make medical aid in dying an option for terminally ill people, so they would not have to suffer in agony at the end of life like he did.”

Nilsa shared videos Miguel recorded in March in both English and in Spanish, and this cell phone video that he recorded on May 25, just 10 days before his death (Spanish video).

“I must confess that when Miguel first let me know he was considering medical aid in dying, I emphatically said ‘No,’” said Nilsa, who is Catholic.” 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.”

José Garza spoke about his wife, Nohemí, a devout Christian who suffered horribly from cancer at the end of her life in 2004.

“She no longer had to endure catheters and needles poking through her frail body,” said Garza, former executive director of the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation.

“Yet even if the catheters and needles were removed from her body, Noemi still suffered in agony. I felt her pain. I felt my pain.”

The New York Medical Aid in Dying Act is modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act and similar laws in California, Montana, Vermont and Washington that have stood the test of time for a collective 30+ years without a single documented case of abuse or coercion.

In 2016, legislators in the District of Columbia and 19 states introduced aid-in-dying bills: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. That represents nearly a three-fold increase compared to the aid-in-dying bill introductions in 2014 in seven states: Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

While many legislatures have ended their session for this year, the District of Columbia Council and New York legislatures still are considering medical aid-in-dying bills. In addition, there is a citizen-led referendum to authorize medical aid in dying in Colorado.