All Americans should have access to all end-of-life care options

All Americans should have access to all end-of-life care options
© Getty Images

Every day, as leader of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, I work to improve the lives of older Hispanic adults, their families and their caregivers. An issue that really concerns me is the minimization of the suffering of terminally ill Latinos in the District of Columbia, as well as dying Americans nationwide.

This issue is very personal to me. My mother lived in D.C. and died in agony from gallbladder cancer in 2015. Mama Elizabeth loved life. She loved to travel to her native El Salvador. She loved to run. She was a real fighter. Unfortunately, after months of radiation and chemotherapy, my frail mother decided to stop all medical treatments that would only prolong the agonizing process of dying. She went into hospice and died four months later after enduring horrific pain.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sadly, some members of Congress are trying to repeal D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act that took effect this February. Similar to laws in six states, it gives mentally capable, terminally adults with six months or less to live the option of asking their doctor for a prescription for medication that they can decide to take to die peacefully when no other treatment can provide relief from their suffering.

 

I am deeply concerned about this federal overreach into the most personal, private decisions of D.C. residents, 11 percent of whom are Hispanic. 

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill, H.R. 3354, with an amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) to repeal D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act. Twelve days later, 11 House members introduced a concurrent resolution (H.Con.Res.80) opposing medical aid in dying nationwide.

In response, I recently sent letters to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on behalf of the National Hispanic Council on Aging to express our opposition to these measures and to announce our support of medical aid-in-dying laws nationwide.

Medical aid in dying is authorized in the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, representing 18 percent of our nation’s population, with 40 years of combined experience without any misuse of this option.

Most people won’t need medical aid in dying, but laws authorizing this option benefit many terminally ill adults by spurring conversations with their physicians and loved ones about all end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care, and better utilization of them.

My mother would have wanted the option of medical aid in dying. Latino Americans need and want these humane laws. 

Both national and state polls show strong support for medical aid in dying across the ethnic, political and religious spectrum, including 69 percent of Latino Americans and 57 percent of doctors nationwide. A growing number of national and state medical organizations have endorsed or adopted a neutral position on medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults.

Latino lawmakers’ support for medical aid in dying has dramatically increased in the United States since Miguel Carrasquillo, a terminally ill Puerto Rico native, appeared in videos advocating for this option. 

The 35-year-old former chef who also had lived in New York and Chicago was dying of brain cancer when he recorded bilingual interviews in English and in Spanish to urge fellow Latinos to support medical aid in dying. Unfortunately, Miguel died in June 2016 without this option to end his agonizing pain because Puerto Rico had not authorized it.

Since Miguel’s death, six states with large Latino populations 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.

Members of Congress, I urge you to search your hearts and put yourself in the shoes of terminally ill Latinos in the District of Columbia and dying Americans nationwide. I urge you to respect the legislative process of D.C. and the 50 states so local lawmakers can decide what is best for their constituents, instead of taking away the option of medical aid in dying from the terminally ill people who desperately need it to peacefully end intolerable suffering.

Yanira Cruz is president and chief executive officer of the National Hispanic Council on Aging in Washington, D.C. She earned a Master’s degree and a Doctorate degree in public health with a specialty in global health from George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.