Bronx Assemblymember/Nurse Karines Reyes and Terminally Ill Buffalo Resident Jennifer Milich Discuss the Importance of Passing the Medical Aid in Dying Act in 2021 in New Video
Compassion & Choices today released a new video featuring a conversation between Assemblymember/nurse Karines Reyes (D-Bronx) and Jennifer Milich of Buffalo, who has terminal kidney cancer that has spread to her brain, as they discuss the need for the Legislature to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act in 2021.
Medical aid in dying is an end-of-life care option that allows a mentally capable, terminally ill adult with six months or less to live to request prescription medication from their doctor they can decide to take if their suffering becomes too great to bear, so they can die peacefully. This option is authorized in nine states – including New York neighbors Vermont and New Jersey – as well as Washington, D.C.
Jennifer faces extreme fatigue, nausea and pain. In the four-and-a-half minute video, Jennifer said that over the past year, the only relief from her constant suffering was spending time with her family, watching Buffalo Bills games, and enjoying nature. But now, as her suffering has become unbearable, Jennifer wants the option of medical aid in dying, so she can die peacefully.
“There comes a time when enough is enough,” Milich said in the video that is available here: bit.ly/ReyesMilichVideo.
Reyes, a registered nurse in the Oncology Department at Montefiore Einstein Hospital, who spent time on the front lines in 2020 helping fight COVID-19 in the Bronx, is a supporter and sponsor of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, which will be reintroduced in both houses – with increased sponsorship – in the coming weeks.
“I’m very supportive of this cause because of my very intimate knowledge of death and dying, unfortunately. And I think it’s important that we really have this [end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying] in our state,” Reyes said. “I’m on the bill, and whenever I have an opportunity, particularly in conference, to speak up about an issue like this, I do.
“And I always do it … with my oncology nurse hat on, right, and letting people know I have experienced this, I’ve been at the bedside of folks who didn’t have this choice and would have liked this choice and what ultimately, their last weeks, days, hours look like,” Reyes told Milich. “I’ve seen some horrific things that I think nobody should ever have to live through.”
“I believe this is the right thing to do. I think that there are enough safeguards built into the language to ensure that it’s professionals doing it, that you have counseling, that you’re terminal. All these issues that people would argue against have been built into the language and if it happens safely in other states, it can happen safely in New York,” Reyes said.
As their conversation closes, Reyes urges Milich: “Don’t stop telling your story because I think it really helps move people. And helps people understand how important this is.” Reyes tells Milich, “You have a legacy and this is part of it, definitely.”
Six months after that conversation, in early December, Jennifer Milich recorded a cell phone video about her deteriorating condition.
“So here we are, December,” said Jennifer in the video. “Sorry for the light, but I’m in my bed all alone. This is where I spend my day. One end of my body gets enemas and suppositories. And the other end of my body gets medicine for nausea and pain. This is no way to survive. This isn’t surviving. This isn’t even existing. This is suffering.
“Unfortunately, this bill’s not going to be passed in time for me, but it should be passed in time for others. Too many before me have come. Let’s not too many after me come. Again, please consider passing the bill for the right to die with dignity and peace. Thank you.”
Compassion & Choices New York Campaign Director Corinne Carey urged the Legislature to do the right thing for Jennifer Milich. “My heart aches for Jennifer and so many others suffering the same fate. My heart aches for the families of those advocates and supporters we’ve lost in the last few years who suffered needlessly at the end of their lives.
“Now is the time. 2021 is the year. Medical aid in dying has overwhelming support from New Yorkers and New York doctors. New York’s legislation is modeled after the 1994 Oregon Death with Dignity Act, a law that has provided comfort to many dying Oregonians, not just the tiny percentage who have used it, by spurring doctor-patient conversations about all end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care,” Carey said.
“We recognize the ongoing health and economic crises caused by the pandemic, however, this legislation has no budget implications and would provide comfort to countless New Yorkers,” Carey said. “I hope that the Legislature acts on Jennifer’s dying plea and provides her with the relief that she is asking for. Lawmakers have the power right now to stop the suffering and pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act.”
New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act is supported by: New York State Academy of Family Physicians, League of Women Voters of New York State, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York State Public Health Association, StateWide Senior Action Council, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Harlem United, Latino Commission on AIDS, Latinos for Healthcare Equity, and Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, among many others.