Memorial Spotlight: Elijah Cummings
Iconic congressman and mighty activist takes a meaningful stand for our movement in his final months.
by Sonja Aliesch
November 22, 2019
Our entire nation mourned the death of Maryland Representative Elijah E. Cummings last month, and our movement lost an important ally. “He was a pillar of the community in Baltimore and revered statewide, ever since he was a delegate,” explains Compassion & Choices African American and Washington, D.C., Outreach Director Donna Smith, who sometimes worked with Cummings in her eight years as policy chief with the Maryland Department of Aging.
Cummings sent a letter of testimony in support of Maryland’s End of Life Option Act last winter, which was read on the floors of both the House and Senate. Powerful passages from the letter include:
… Like many of you, I have reached a time in my own life when I have experienced the loss of far too many people whom I admired and loved — some who suffered for months knowing that they were about to die. As I recall these losses for you, I must acknowledge that my prayer for those dying loved ones, deprived of any reasonable hope for a prolonged life, was for a respectful and compassionate end to their suffering — and a swift journey to that better place …
As a just and compassionate society, we cannot value life in the abstract and deny to those who are about to die the self-determination that they deserve. For these reasons, I commend and support those who would enact this reform in our laws.
“It was huge for the movement,” says Smith. “He was a leader in so many ways, who affected so many people on a personal level, and in his last days he chose to be a leader in this movement as well. That just really humbles me. Death happens even to heroes.”