Compassion & Choices praised Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for her vow today to prevent congressional opponents of D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act from repealing the law this year, as she did last year. The law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), who authored a House concurrent resolution condemning medical aid in dying in 2017, said two weeks ago: “we were unable to put language repealing the D.C…law in to recent spending legislation, but I am hopeful that we will be able to do so in next year’s legislation [for fiscal year 2019 that starts Oct. 1, 2018].”
“Members of Congress who oppose medical aid in dying like Reps. Wenstrup and Harris should stop treating the District of Columbia as their personal petri dish and respect the autonomy of D.C. residents and their elected officials,” said Compassion & Choices CEO Kim Callinan. “We will continue working with Rep. Norton to defeat these cruel, relentless attacks on D.C.’s medical aid-in-dying law that cause terminally ill D.C. residents to worry they will lose this option to peacefully end their suffering.”
“Reps. Wenstrup and Harris are doctors, so they should know better than to intervene between other physicians and their patients who recognize medical aid in dying as a legitimate palliative care option to relief intolerable suffering,” said Dr. Omega Silva, an 81-year-old retired physician living in Washington, D.C. with three cancer diagnoses. “They are wrong ethically to impose their personal values on other doctors and patients and to impede terminally ill D.C. residents from even considering this option.”
A fall 2016 Medscape online survey of 7,500 doctors nationwide representing 25 medical specialties showed they supported medical aid in dying by a 2-1 margin (57% to 29%).
This story originally appeared for La Opinion, Los Angeles; El Diario, NY; La Prensa, Miami; and La RAZA, Chicago. Links below.
In May 2015, my 35-year-old husband, Juan Fernando Romero, a seemingly healthy young man, suddenly became ill and suffered severe brain damage that left him in a permanent vegetative state.
I was pregnant with our second child. But as difficult as this situation was, the real tragedy was the ensuing 15-month legal battle over his end-of-life care, a tragedy that could have been easily prevented with a simple advance directive.
Bitter Family Dispute
Ana and Juan Fernando Romero
Fernando’s health slowly and gravely deteriorated after his brain injury and he required 24-hour care in a nursing facility. His doctors said he had no chance for recovery. Since he had irreversibly lost his capacity for consciousness, he was unable to tell the doctors his end-of-life care preferences.
Over many months, Fernando was repeatedly rushed to the hospital because of life-threatening bouts of pneumonia, blood infections, and other conditions. Patients in a permanent vegetative state often make involuntary and unconscious movements. Once, after Fernando bit his tongue very deeply, his doctors discussed removing all his teeth.
After seeing him languish for 18 months, I made the painful decision to bring Fernando home a few weeks before Christmas for palliative care, to keep him comfortable, so he could end his life in peace, surrounded by his loved ones.
On Dec. 9, 2016, the day before I had arranged to bring Fernando home, his sister and parents filed two lawsuits sponsored by the Life Legal Defense Foundation.
The first lawsuit sought to overturn my healthcare decision-making authority as his spouse, while the second lawsuit urged the court to appoint Fernando’s sister to replace me as his healthcare proxy, so she could keep him on life support.
This ordeal reminded me of the highly-publicizedTerri Schiavo case, which Life Legal Defense Foundation had helped to fund. Terri Schiavo was a young Florida woman who had been in a permanent vegetative state for 15 years when, in 2005, her parents fought a bitter legal battle challenging her husband’s decision to honor her end-of-life preferences by requesting removal of her feeding tube.
The lawsuits focused on what Fernando would have wanted, since he had not completed an advance directive. His family claimed Fernando showed signs of consciousness. But every doctor who examined Fernando, including experts who testified for both sides in the lawsuit, concluded he was permanently unconscious and could not possibly understand what anyone said to him, let alone respond to questions about what he wanted.
Fernando had made several comments to me to me before his injury, which enabled me to know what he would want. Fernando visited a close family member who suffered from profound mental incapacity, which required extreme medical intervention to keep her alive. Fernando told me he would never want to be kept alive like that.
My 37-year-old husband died of natural causes on June 3, 2017, despite being on life support, shortly before the trial arguments. Eight months later, in March Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Thornton House ended the legal war that had raged for over a year, She ruled that as Fernando’s wife, I was in the best position to know his end-of-life care preferences. The judge also ruled that my decisions about Fernando’s end-of-life care had been consistent with his preferences and in full compliance with both Catholic doctrine and the California’s Health Care Decision Law. I am grateful to my legal team of Compassion & Choices, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Mark Drew and Jon B. Eisenberg.
Tragically, the judge’s decision came too late for me to honor my husband’s end-of-life care preferences. As a result of the litigation, Fernando pointlessly lingered for six months.
The Tragic Lesson
Fernando would have been heartbroken if he knew about the lawsuits that tore his families apart. But this tragedy will serve a greater purpose if it can inspire others to learn two things. First, never take your family for granted. Appreciate them and love them every day as if it might be the last. Second, to avoid confusion, a bitter family dispute, and a litigation nightmare, complete an advance directive so that your loved ones will know what your end-of-life care preferences are. Advance directives are easily found through your healthcare provider, an attorney, a local library, or on the Internet.
Ana Romero is a human resources analyst who lives with her and Fernando’s two young daughters, ages 4 and 2, in Los Angeles.
Compassion & Choices and Rhode Island supporter advocates urged the Rhode Island House Health, Education and Welfare Committee to pass the Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act (H 7297). The bill would authorize medical aid in dying, which gives mentally capable, terminally ill individuals with a prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request, obtain and self-ingest medication to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (Providence) and four cosponsors. It is based on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which has been successfully implemented for more than 20 years with no record of abuse or misuse.
“The Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act would simply provide an end-of-life care option to Rhode Island residents suffering in the final days of their lives,” Ajello said. “This bill contains safeguards to ensure that only terminally ill adult state residents with the capacity to direct their medical care can use this option.”
Advocates from across the state attended the hearing, with many testifying and delivering personal stories of why lawmakers should act urgently to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation to benefit terminally ill Rhode Island residents.
Cranston RI resident Debbie Flitman testified before the committee: “Those seeking the option of medical aid in dying want to live. But they know their condition will eventually kill them, and they want the option of avoiding unnecessary suffering,” Ms. Flitman said.
“We commend the committee for examining this important legislation,” said Marie Manis, Rhode Island Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices. “We call on the legislature to pass this bill now, because terminally ill Rhode Islanders won’t be able to wait until next year to take advantage of this option.”
Medical aid in dying is an end-of-life medical practice in which a terminally ill, mentally capable individual who has a prognosis of six months or less may request, obtain and—if his or her suffering becomes unbearable—self-ingest medication that brings about a peaceful death.
Today’s result represents a major milestone in the fight for medical aid in dying: with this vote, the issue has progressed further through the legislative process than ever in Hawai‘i history. HB 2739 now heads to Governor David Ige’s desk. He has until April 17 to sign it into law.
If enacted into law, the legislation would authorize medical aid in dying in Hawai‘i, making it the seventh state in the U.S. with this end-of-life care option. The other six states are California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State. In addition, the District of Columbia also has authorized medical aid in dying.
Patient advocate John Radcliffe, who has stage 4 terminal colon cancer, said, “I am grateful that I was able to argue on behalf of suffering and dying people in Hawai`i and that this legislation will bring an end to some of it. It was one of the high honors of my life that I was allowed to argue on behalf of those same people, my peers.”
“Today is a momentous day for all Hawai`i residents, who are one step closer to having peace of mind at the end of their lives,” said Kim Callinan, Chief Executive Officer of Compassion & Choices. “We thank Senators Baker, Taniguchi, and Rhoads, and Representatives Belatti, Mizuno and Nishimoto, for championing this important legislation, as well as every lawmaker who supported the bill.”
“Over the last 25 years, so many people of Hawai‘i have been devoted to bringing a medical aid-in-dying option to our state and have not lived to see success. They would be so proud and grateful today,” said Aubrey Hawk, communications officer, C&C Hawai‘i. “Medical aid in dying is an option. It need not be exercised, but we will be a more compassionate state for making it accessible to our terminally ill kama‘aina who so desperately need it.”
Today marks the 20th anniversary of a doctor writing the first prescription medication under Oregon’s medical aid in dying law. That courageous doctor was Pete Reagan. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Pete and his wife, Bonnie, in their beautiful Portland home.
Several weeks after visiting with Pete and Bonnie, I met with another early visionary for expanding end-of-life care options, Dr. Timothy Quill. Tim was the lead plaintiff in a 1997 Supreme Court case, Vacco v. Quill, which sought to establish the right to medical aid in dying under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. While the U.S. Supreme Court declined to recognize the right, the case affirmed palliative sedation as a medical practice by recognizing that dying patients have a constitutional right to receive as much pain medication as necessary, even if it advances the time of death, as long as the physician’s intention was not to cause death.
Through these discussions, I realized just how important the early pioneer doctors have been in advancing end-of-life care options. These physicians were trained to cure and save lives, yet their patients needed support about how they die. These physicians did not have a roadmap for how to respond to their patients’ requests for help. Quite the contrary, they worked under a standard of medical care that suggested needless suffering was preferable. These doctors — and many others — had to wrestle with their own personal and moral beliefs. They went against conventional wisdom, and sometimes challenged their peers, to create a new definition of what it means to support a patient at the end of life. They are heroes.
These doctors weren’t setting out to be pioneers — quite the contrary, in fact. They merely sought to provide the best care possible for their dying patients. These physicians recognized that for some of their patients, the best care possible meant giving them autonomy and allowing them to relieve their suffering by ingesting prescription medication to die peacefully in their sleep. They were committed to ensuring that medicine allowed for this compassionate, end-of-life care option to be a recognized as a legitimate medical practice.
We frequently talk about expanding end-of-life care options as a consumer movement — that consumers are the ones driving the change. And we are. The change is happening because we are expressing our wishes and values to the medical establisment and public policymakers and they are adapting. What is also true is that this change has come in partnership with some very honorable and heroic doctors. These doctors recognized that a key element to patient-directed care is respecting and honoring their patients’ values and priorities, even if they differed from their own.
So on March 23, the day the first medical aid-in-dying prescription was written, I’d like honor the many doctor advocates who have championed end-of-life care autonomy. They include Dr. Reagan, Dr. Quill, three other early doctors who publicly advocated for passage of the law — Dr. Peter Goodwin, Dr. Peter Rasmussen and Dr. Nancy Crumpacker — all of the many doctors who advance end-of-life choice through our Doctors for Dignity and Doc2Doc programs, and many, many others. I, for one, am profoundly grateful for their courage and leadership. They are a critical part of the movement for patient-directed, end-of-life care and autonomy. Their efforts have paved the way for a healthcare system that recognizes medical aid in dying as a legitimate form of palliative care. And they are changing the way Americans die, for the better. We are all so thankful.
Susan Boyce speaks in support of the bill as Rev. Gillian McAllister looks on. Photo courtesy of Carlos Iván Merino.
The New Jersey General Assembly Judiciary Committee today voted 5 to 2 to pass the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act (A.1504/S.1072), New Jersey’s proposed medical aid-in-dying legislation. Medical aid in dying gives mentally capable, terminally ill individuals with a prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request, obtain and self-ingest medication to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable.
Championed by Assemblymembers John J. Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro), Tim Eustace (D- Bergen) and Joe Danielsen (D-Franklin Township), the bill will now move on to a General Assembly vote.
The campaign to advance the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act is powered by thousands of New Jersey supporters, coalitions and volunteers, including the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the New Jersey Psychological Association, as well as members of the state’s medical, scientific and religious communities.
“I’m grateful that the bill sponsors have been such diligent champions of this bill and that the Committee has recognized the peace of mind that this end-of-life care option provides,” said Susan Boyce, a Rumson, New Jersey resident living with a progressive, terminal, genetic disease; Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. “While I continue to do all I can to live my life as I wish, should my treatment options become exhausted, I would like my life to end the way I’ve lived: surrounded by my friends and loved ones. The Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act will give me the freedom to achieve a peaceful death.”
Debra Dunn, Paramus, New Jersey resident and operating room nurse who lost her husband to terminal pancreatic cancer, stated: “My husband did not live long enough to witness this important vote today regarding the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act. I know he was there in spirit with me as I advocated for others to seek passage of the medical aid-in-dying bill so that other terminally ill New Jerseyans can have peace of mind knowing they will be able to die on their own terms should their suffering become unbearable.”
“Today’s vote is a tribute to the advocacy of the people of New Jersey, especially the terminally ill who fought to advance this legislation even in their final days, but were not able to utilize it,” said Corinne Carey, New Jersey Campaign Director for Compassion & Choices. “We commend the Committee today for putting us on the path to passing a law to provide all terminally ill, mentally competent New Jerseyans who seek it with this important end-of-life care option.”
If enacted, A.1504/S.1072 would poise New Jersey to join the six other states as well as the District of Columbia in enacting medical aid-in-dying laws. Oregon, where medical aid in dying has been authorized for two decades (since 1997), has been joined since then by Washington (2008), Montana (2009), Vermont (2013), California (2015), Colorado (2016), and the District of Columbia (2017).
Compassion & Choices Hawai‘i applauded the state House of Representatives for its bipartisan 39 to 12 vote to pass legislation after a third and final reading today that would authorize medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults in Hawai‘i. The bill, whose title is the “Our Care, Our Choice Act” (HB 2739), now crosses over to the Senate for its consideration.
If enacted, the Our Care, Our Choice Act would allow Hawai‘i to join seven other jurisdictions in authorizing terminally ill adults of sound mind to request and receive a prescription they may self-administer to bring about a peaceful death. Oregon, where medical aid in dying has been authorized for two decades, has been joined by Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado, and most recently, the District of Columbia.
“Hawai‘i residents overwhelmingly support expanding end-of-life care options. While most terminally ill will never opt for medical aid in dying, they want the option because it provides comfort to those in the end stages of a terminal disease knowing that if their suffering becomes unbearable they can use this option to die peacefully in their sleep,” said Aubrey Hawk, C&C Hawai‘i communications officer. “By advancing the Our Care, Our Choice Act, the House has shown a commitment to improving end-of-life care for all kama‘aina because these laws spur people to discuss all their end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care, and to utilize them more effectively.”
An Anthology Research Group survey among likely voters conducted in November 2016 showed broad and deep support for medical aid in dying. Eighty percent of Hawai‘i residents believe medical aid in dying should be an authorized option for terminally ill, mentally capable adults who have less than six months to live. After more than 20 years of local grassroots effort, the issue in recent years has been gaining a groundswell of support among local medical and interfaith groups.
Compassion & Choices Hawai‘i applauds the Hawai‘i House Health & Human Services (HHS) and Judiciary (JUD) Committees for their overwhelming 4 to 1 vote (HHS) and 7 to 1 vote (JUD) today to approve medical aid-in-dying legislation,“Our Care, Our Choice Act,” HB2739, for full House consideration following a joint public hearing on the bill on Monday.
“Terminally ill kama‘aina who have six months or less to live cannot wait any longer to access this option,” said Aubrey Hawk, communications officer for Compassion & Choices Hawai‘i. “We look forward to working with the legislature to expand end-of-life care options for terminally ill kama‘aina to give them and their families peace of mind.”
Medical aid in dying is an end-of-life medical practice in which a terminally ill, mentally capable individual who has a prognosis of six months or less to live requests, obtains and—if his or her suffering becomes unbearable—self-ingests medication to die peacefully in their sleep.
Hundreds of supporters crowded the auditorium at the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to pass the Our Care, Our Choice Act. HB2739 now faces a floor vote and then moves to a third reading before crossover to the Senate.
Health & Human Services Chair John Mizuno said, “This issue is a matter of providing people with a choice and everyone should be able to make this decision for themselves. For people who decide they want this option there will be proper safeguards in place to protect everyone involved and prevent any possible abuse.”
“It’s time for this bill to become law’” Gov. Ige said. “Mentally competent, terminally ill people who are in pain and who are suffering should be given the choice to end their lives with grace, dignity and peace. I would be proud and honored to sign this bill into law if our state legislators pass this measure this session.”
In addition to Gov. Ige, Hawaii’s four previous Democratic governors have publicly endorsed medical aid in dying, as have more than 30 organizations, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness Hawai‘i, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Hawai‘i, and Hawai‘i State AFL-CIO.
The people of Hawai‘i have been striving to gain access to a medical aid-in-dying option for more than 20 years, and C&C Hawai‘i has built a larger-than-ever base of grassroots support. A 2016 poll (click here for full Hawai‘i polling data) shows 80 percent of Hawai‘i voters support a medical aid in dying law, and the issue has been gaining a groundswell of support among medical and interfaith groups.
The Reverend John Heidel (ret.) testified on behalf of his fellow Interfaith Alliance Hawai‘i members.
“We respect the right of competent adults to make their own decisions concerning end of life choices according to their own beliefs and values,” Rev. Heidel testified. “I do not believe it is up to me, or any other religious leader, to dictate how this final, intimate decision between a dying person and his or her God should be made. Instead, we must support and accept such decisions even if they do not represent the course we ourselves might choose; this is the meaning of freedom of choice and mutual respect.”
From L to R: Dan Diaz, Nilsa Centeno, and Colorado Representative Joann Ginal
Los latinos se unieron hoy para impulsar el apoyo a un mejor acceso a la ley Opciones al Final de la Vida, que autoriza a los enfermos terminales de Colorado a usar la ayuda médica para morir y terminar así, pacíficamente, con su sufrimiento insoportable.
Una mayoría abrumadora de residentes de Colorado (65%) votó por la ley Opciones al Final de la Vida en 2016, incluyendo la mayoría de los latinos. La ley da a los adultos con una enfermedad terminal, mentalmente competentes y con un pronóstico de vida de seis meses o menos, la opción de solicitar a un médico la prescripción de un medicamento que pueden tomar por sí mismos para morir pacíficamente cuando su sufrimiento se vuelve insoportable.
El primer informe del Departamento de Salud Pública y Medio Ambiente de Colorado, publicado a principios de este mes, muestra que la ley está funcionando según lo estipulado, pero aún se necesita mucho trabajo para mejorar el acceso a ella.
Patricia A. González-Portillo, Directora Nacional para la comunidad latina de Compassion & Choices dijo: “Las barreras de acceso continúan existiendo, incluyendo la percepción errónea de que los centros de salud pueden prohibir a los doctores que prescriban el medicamento que ayuda a morir a sus pacientes terminales que quieran tomar esta opción al final de sus dís.
Simpatizantes de diferentes culturas y creencias religiosas se reunieron en la rotonda del Capitolio del estado con una oración dirigida por el Rabino Adam Morris del Templo Micah en Denver, quien ha asesorado y orado con personas que se preparan para el final de sus días.
“Ningún paciente, médico o farmaceuta tiene que participar en esta ley”, dijo. “Pero debemos hacer todo lo que podamos para ayudar a todas las personas elegibles que quieran acceder a la ley, así como a los médicos y farmaceutas que quieran ayudar a proveer esta opción de cuidado de salud para el final de la vida”.
La representante Joann Ginal, defensora desde hace mucho tiempo de la ayuda médica para morir, recalcó que “la enfermedad terminal no discrimina, por lo que es muy importante que todos puedan tener una conversación con sus doctores sobre las opciones al final de sus días”.
El doctor Charles Hamlin, M.D., un cirujano retirado, habló sobre el papel de los doctores en las discusiones sobre el final de la vida. “No son sólo los pacientes lo que necesitan comenzar esta importante conversación, también es responsabilidad de los médicos el asegurarse que sus pacientes entiendan sus opciones”.
Dan Diaz, esposo de la desaparecida Brittany Maynard, la mujer californiana de 29 años que tenía cáncer cerebral y abogó por las leyes de asistencia médica para morir hasta su muerte, habló de su traslado a Oregon en 2014 para utilizar la ley Muerte con Dignidad para su esposa. California no contaba con dicha ley en ese momento, pero pasaron las últimas vacaciones en Colorado porque era el lugar favorito de Brittany.
“Brittany y Miguel están ahora en paz y me da consuelo saber que ninguno de los dos está sufriendo más”, dijo, “Pero el contraste entre sus muertes debe servir como un recordatorio de la importancia de esta vital legislación.”
Nilsa Centeno contuvo la lágrimas mientras hablaba de su único hijo, Miguel Carrasquillo, un ex neoyorquino cuyo horrible sufrimiento por el cáncer cerebral le impulso a grabar entrevistas bilingües en inglés y español para Compassion & Choices para exhortar a los legisladores de todo el país para aprobar esta opción de fin de vida. Miguel murió en 2016 en su natal Puerto Rico, con sólo 35 años.
“Mi hijo Miguel no tenía acceso a la ayuda médica para morir, pero los residentes de Colorado tienen esa opción y deben hacer todo lo que esté en su poder para asegurarse de que las personas moribundas no tengan que pasar por un largo proceso”, dijo Nilsa. “Miguel simplemente quería terminar con su sufrimiento, no por desesperación o depresión, sino para mantener un poco de consuelo en sus últimos días, para irse en paz.”
El apoyo de los latinos ha aumentado dramáticamente desde que Miguel abogó por leyes de ayuda médica para morir en todo el país.
Gracias al apoyo de los latinos, incluyendo a la defensora de los derechos civiles Dolores Huerta, el activista, actor y director Edward James Olmos y al actor mexicano Mauricio Ochmann, hoy el 69 por ciento de los latinos apoyan la ayuda médica para morir.
Además, seis estados con una gran población latina han aprobado o promulgad leyes para autorizar la asistencia médica para morir: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico y New York. Legisladores latinos son los patrocinadores de la ley en cuatro de estos estados: Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey y New York. Y más organizaciones latinas en todo el país, como Hispanic Council on Aging (Consejo Hispano sobre el Envejecimiento), Latino Commission on AIDS (Comisión Latina sobre el SIDA) y el Hispanic Health Network (Red Hispana de la Salud), están mostrando su apoyo.
Actualmente seis estados han autorizado explícitamente la ayuda médica para morir (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, y Washington), junto con el Distrito de Columbia. Colectivamente, estas siete jurisdicciones representan el 18 por ciento de la población de la nación y el 30 por ciento de la población latina. A través de estas jurisdicciones tenemos una combinación de 40 años de experiencia en el uso seguro de esta opción de cuidados al final de la vida.
From L to R: Dan Diaz, Nilsa Centeno, and Colorado Representative Joann Ginal
Latinos joined forces today to urge support for improved access to the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act that authorizes terminally ill Coloradans to utilize medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering.
An overwhelming majority of Coloradans (65%) voted for the End-of-Life Options Act in 2016, including a majority of Latinos. The law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully if their suffering becomes unbearable.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s first annual report about the law released earlier this month shows it is working, but there is still work to be done to improve access to it.
Patricia A. González-Portillo, national Latino constituency director for Compassion & Choices said, “Barriers to access continue to exist, including the misperception that healthcare facilities can prohibit doctors from prescribing medical aid-in-dying prescriptions to their terminally ill patients who want this end-of-life care option.”
Supporters from different cultures and faiths gathered at the Rotunda of the State Capitol with a prayer led by Rabbi Adam Morris of Temple Micah in Denver, who has counseled and prayed with people as they prepared for the end of their lives.
“No patient, physician or pharmacist has to participate in this law,” he said. “But we should do everything we can to help eligible individuals who want to access the law do so and not impede physicians and pharmacists who want to help provide this end-of-life care option.”
Representative Joann Ginal, a long-time advocate for medical aid in dying, made the point that, “Terminal illness doesn’t discriminate, which is why it’s so important for everyone to have a conversation with their doctor about end-of-life options.”
Dr. Charles Hamlin, M.D., a retired surgeon, spoke about the role of doctors in end-of-life discussions. “It’s not just patients who need to start these important conversations; it’s up to physicians to make sure those they care for understand their options.”
Dan Diaz, husband of the late Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian woman who had terminal brain cancer and advocated for medical aid-in-dying laws, spoke about their move to Oregon in 2014 to utilize its Death with Dignity Act. California did not have such a law at the time, but they spent her last vacation in Colorado before she died because it was her favorite place.
“Brittany and Miguel are now at peace and it brings me solace to know that neither one is suffering anymore,” he said. “But the contrast between their deaths should serve as a reminder of the importance of this vital legislation.”
Nilsa Centeno held back tears as she spoke of her only son, Miguel Carrasquillo, a former New Yorker whose horrific suffering from brain cancer prompted him to record bilingual interviews in English and in Spanish for Compassion & Choices urging lawmakers nationwide to approve this end of life option. Miguel died in 2016 in his native Puerto Rico. He was only 35-years-old.
“My son, Miguel did not have access to medical aid in dying, but Coloradans have that option and they should do everything in their power to make sure that dying people don’t have to go through a lengthy process,” said Nilsa. “He simply wanted end to his suffering, not out of despair or depression, but to maintain some comfort in his final days so that he could pass gently.”
Latino support has increased dramatically since MIguel advocated for medical aid-in-dying laws nationwide.
Thanks to the advocacy of Latinos, including civil rights advocate Dolores Huerta, activist, actor and director Edward James Olmos and Mexican actor Mauricio Ochmann, today 69 percent of Hispanics support medical aid in dying.
In addition, six states with a large Latino population have either passed or introduced laws to authorize medical aid in dying: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Latino lawmakers are sponsors of legislation in four of those states: Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey and New York. And more Latino organizations throughout the country, like the Hispanic Council on Aging, the Latino Commission on AIDS and the Hispanic Health Network, are coming forward in support.
Currently, six states have explicitly authorized medical aid in dying (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), along with the District of Columbia. Collectively, these seven jurisdictions represent 18 percent of the nation’s population and 30 percent of the Latino population. Across these jurisdictions, we have a combined 40 years of experience safely using this end-of-life care option.