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Volunteer Spotlight: Reverend Charles McNeill

D.C. pastor Rev. Charles McNeill works to raise awareness of and clear misconceptions about medical aid in dying: “To see someone go from doubt to really understanding and accepting, that is enlightening for me.”

Reverend Charles McNeill, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., takes every opportunity to speak with his congregation about end-of-life issues. “I wasn’t sure about the D.C. [Death with Dignity] bill when I first heard about it; I must admit I was skeptical. I wondered why such a law would be needed. But once Compassion & Choices’ Donna Smith and Brandi Alexander spoke to me about the bill, I realized that it would indeed help people who were suffering unnecessarily at the end.”

Smith, Compassion & Choices D.C. field and legislative manager, approached Rev. McNeill about helping C&C reach the African-American community and start the discussion surrounding end-of-life issues, including medical aid in dying. Rev. McNeill put C&C staff in touch with hundreds of pastors over the country to establish a network of faith leaders who will speak out about end-of-life issues and in defense of medical aid-in-dying laws.

Rev. McNeill is the newest member to join the Compassion & Choices African-American Leadership Council, a dynamic group of advocate leaders focused on raising awareness, identifying materials that will empower African-Americans around end-of-life medical decision-making, and strategizing enhancements to Compassion & Choices’ policies and priorities specific to the needs of the African-American community.

He also serves as president of the National Capital Baptist Convention, which serves over 100 churches in the Washington, D.C., metro area. “As I shared what I learned with members of my church and community, I heard that people in general were for it when they were clear what it was about. We hold seminars about end-of-life issues with our congregation at least once a month. People are very open to the discussion when they find out what the law is really about. I think there are misconceptions, and once the law is explained to them, the doubt goes away.”

“To see someone go from doubt to really understanding and accepting, that is enlightening for me,” says Rev. McNeill, who has also spoken to legislators, testifying recently in front of the D.C. Council and in his home state of Maryland. “It’s an honor to speak in front of lawmakers about this issue. I’m willing to help in any way.”