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The Power of an Anchorman Known as Jorge

Educating the Latino community about end-of-life options is key to advancing the movement. By Patricia A. González-Portillo

Jorge Ramos and C&C National Latino Communications and Constituency Director Patricia A. González-Portillo

In 2016, as my friend Miguel Carrasquillo lived his last days, I reached out to Univision anchor and Emmy Award-winning journalist Jorge Ramos. Miguel, a 35-year-old former chef who had lived in New York and Chicago, was dying of brain cancer. Miguel had recently recorded bilingual interviews to urge fellow Latinos to support medical aid in dying to end the kind of unbearable suffering he was enduring because the option was not available to him.

Jorge’s crew arranged a satellite interview from Puerto Rico — an interview that would be Miguel’s last and a platform to reach millions of Latinos before his death on June 5, 2016. Jorge remembers his time with Miguel in great detail. “This has been one of the toughest interviews I have had to do,” Jorge tweeted afterward.

Miguel proudly referred to himself as the “Latino Brittany Maynard” because he was inspired by the 29-year-old Californian who also had terminal brain cancer and who had moved to Oregon to access its Death With Dignity law in 2014. Latino support for medical aid in dying has dramatically increased in the United States since Miguel spoke out for this end-of-life option. Bills to authorize medical aid in dying have been introduced in more states with large Latino populations, including Colorado, where voters passed a law in 2016. In addition, more Latino lawmakers nationwide are sponsoring bills. But getting here has
not been easy.

Winning in California

In 2014, Compassion & Choices launched a Latino media campaign in California, where Spanish-speaking residents represent 38 percent of the state’s population. Their support is critical to passing any legislation. Our goal was to educate and mobilize Latino voters to garner their support for passing California’s End of Life Option Act.

We tailored our bilingual communications to create personal stories that would connect with Latino voters and inoculate them against the Catholic Church’s fear-based misinformation campaign. We successfully pitched stories featuring our Latino advocates, resulting in multiple interviews with national Spanish-language media giants Univision, Telemundo and La Opinión. We also recruited labor leader and civil-rights icon Dolores Huerta and actor, director and activist Edward James Olmos.

And we got Jorge Ramos on board.

Jorge, the voice of nearly 12 million Latinos, wrote special segments that exclusively focused on medical aid in dying. He publicly endorsed the California End of Life Option Act in an interview with Dan Diaz, Brittany Maynard’s husband, before the bill was signed into law in October 2015. Jorge reiterated his support for laws authorizing medical aid in dying by writing an editorial in support of Brittany’s decision to die peacefully.

By the end of the California campaign, Compassion & Choices had reached millions of people via Latino media outlets that had once been reluctant to cover our issue because their audience is predominantly Catholic. And more importantly, our outreach spurred a national conversation on end-of-life options among Latinos. But we needed more.

“One of the Toughest Interviews”

Jorge Ramos has been a widely respected journalist for over three decades. Millions of people tune in to his daily newscast and weekly political show, “Al Punto” (“To the Point”). In recent years, Jorge’s audience has exceeded those of each of the four main English-language networks. In 2015, the 59-year-old Mexican journalist, known as the “Walter Cronkite of Latin America” or the “voice of the voiceless” for immigrants like him, was on the cover of Time magazine as one of its “100 Most Influential People.”

In March 2016, I traveled to Puerto Rico to meet Miguel Carrasquillo. Weeks later, Compassion & Choices launched a national bilingual campaign to introduce the world to Miguel. Miguel’s story was featured in People en Español, and overnight he became a household name for journalists who referred to him simply as “Miguel.” Then in May, I arranged what would become Miguel’s last interview on Jorge’s show — one that Miguel thought of canceling that morning because he could barely open his eyes. But Miguel proceeded, at times mumbling his responses. Jorge’s voice cracked when he said goodbye to Miguel, who died 10 days later. “Miguel Carrasquillo, 35, didn’t die as he wanted,” read Jorge’s editorial, which ran throughout the world in English and Spanish. “He died in pain after enduring months of agony.”

Latino Support for Medical Aid in Dying

When Colorado voters passed the End-of-Life Options Act in November 2016, a majority of Latinos supported the legislation, according to exit polling conducted for the Associated Press. As Miguel’s story continued to resonate among this population, we kicked off a bilingual campaign in Colorado to educate terminally ill Coloradans, families and medical providers about the benefits and requirements of the state’s new medical aid-in-dying law. Weeks later, we launched a Latino campaign with Miguel’s mom, Nilsa, in New York during a Dia de los Muertos event to honor departed New Yorkers.

In December 2016, we learned that 69 percent of Latinos support medical aid in dying, according to an online survey conducted by LifeWay Research. In March 2017, People en Español published a two-page spread in advance of the anniversary of Miguel’s death highlighting the new statistic. The story also noted the support for medical aid in dying by popular Mexican actor Mauricio Ochmann, who recorded public service announcements for Compassion & Choices.

Miguel’s Legacy

On June 5, 2017, Compassion & Choices released bilingual videos to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Miguel’s death. Nilsa and I traveled to Miami for interviews with Latino media outlets, including CNN en Español and the Telemundo network. Our final stop: the Univision studios for an interview with Jorge.

Jorge spoke about Miguel’s legacy and the six states with large Latino populations that have either passed or introduced laws to authorize medical aid in dying since Miguel’s death (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York). Latino lawmakers are sponsors of legislation in four of those states.

After the interview, Jorge embraced Nilsa and thanked her for continuing Miguel’s mission. “Miguel made a difference,” Jorge said, as Nilsa fought back tears. “This is his legacy. Thank you for allowing me to tell his story.”