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Day of the Dead Ceremony Honors Dead Advocates for CA End of Life Option Act Before It Became Law

Compassion & Choices Launches PSAs with Actor Mauricio Ochmann about Medical Aid-in-Dying Option

Compassion & Choices’ Day of the Dead altar in Los Angeles. 

The End of Life Option Act gives mentally capable, terminally ill adult Californians 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 if their suffering becomes unbearable.

“We have lost some strong advocates who generously gave us their last, precious moments of life to advocate for medical aid in dying,” said Kim Callinan, chief executive officer of Compassion & Choices.“We are also gathered to ensure that terminally-ill Californians and their families are aware that the End of Life Option Act remains in effect, so they can evaluate the healthcare options available to them at the end of life.”

In late May, a California court issued a judgment temporarily invalidating the End of Life Option Act. Within days Compassion & Choices filed a notice of appeal on behalf of two terminally ill patients and a physician that automatically reinstated the law on June 1, pending further court review.

Advocates from different cultures and religious leaders from different faiths kicked off the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebration with a procession led by Grupo Folklórico Princesa Donají at United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. Inside was a colorful and decorated altar surrounded by photos of the late Juan Fernando Romero, Brittany Maynard and Latino advocate Miguel Carrasquillo and other Californians. A moment of silence followed the lighting of candles.

The celebration occurs four years to the day since the death of Brittany Maynard, the California woman who moved to Oregon so she could die peacefully when she could no longer tolerate the suffering caused by a glioblastoma, the same kind of brain cancer that recently killed U.S. Senator John McCain.

Brittany’s advocacy inspired California, Colorado, the District of Columbia and Hawai‘i to pass laws authorizing medical aid in dying since she died on Nov. 1, 2014. Thanks to previously passed laws in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and a Montana Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit filed by Compassion & Choices, nearly one out of five Americans live in a jurisdiction where this end-of-life care option is available. Collectively, these 8 jurisdictions represent 19 percent of the nation’s population and 30 percent of the Latino population.

“Medical aid in dying involves mentally sound people who would love to live, but they they are dying and suffering tremendously,” said Daniel Turner-Lloveras MD,  assistant professor of medicine,  David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles at Harbor-UCLA. “They use medical aid in dying to peacefully end a prolonged, unbearable dying process.”

“The dying and their loved ones often wonder where is God in their situation,” said Reverend Dr. Ignacio Castuera, pastor, United Methodist Church in Montclair. “Pastors need to alleviate their doubts first and then provide an image of God congruent with the love and compassion in the core of all religions.”

Participants also had the opportunity to see a new public service announcements narrated by Hollywood actor Mauricio Ochmann, urging Latinos to share their loved ones’ end-of-life stories. The PSAs also invite Latinos to learn about the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying that is available in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and starting on Jan. 1, in Hawai’i. Click here to view the video in Spanish and English.

“Hi, I’m Mauricio Ochmann. The law [in authorized jurisdictions] gives terminally ill adults the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take to end their suffering and die peacefully in their sleep,” he states in the PSA. “Please share your personal or family story about the need for this law.”

Medical aid in dying has made headlines among Latinos because of Mauricio’s advocacy, the death of Puerto Rican advocate Miguel Carrasquillo and the growing support of national Latino organizations. These organizations include the Hispanic Council on Aging, the Latino Commission on AIDs, Hispanic Health Network and Latinos for Healthcare Equity. National polling shows 69 percent of Latinos support medical aid in dying.

“As Latinos we love to dress-up and put on our calavera (skull) make-up to celebrate Dia de los Muertos,” Dyana Ortelli, an actress, who is the voice of ‘Tia Victoria’ in the Disney Pixar ‘Coco’. “But when  the time comes to talk about death, and how to prepare for it, we Latinos simply don’t want to talk about it.”

And Romero spoke of her late husband, Juan Fernando Romero, who suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen for over 15 minutes. It left him in a permanent vegetative state with no chance of recovery. In March, a California Judge ruled that Ana had the legal right to end treatment to artificially prolong his life after he suffered severe brain damage that left him in a permanent vegetative state.

“As difficult as this situation was, the real tragedy was the ensuing 15-month legal battle over my husband’s end-of-life care, a tragedy that could  have been prevented with a simple advance directive,” she said. “The stress of his 2-year illness and then the lawsuit over the last 15 months while I was the sole breadwinner for our two children has taken its toll on me, but we survived by the grace of God.”

When Barrie Lynn Krich was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called adenosarcoma in 2016, she moved from Missouri to California, just so she would have the option of medical aid in dying if her suffering becomes unbearable.

“I hope that I can approach my death in the same way that I’ve lived,” she said. “Knowing that I have hope for my final days and autonomy in all I do.”


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