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New York Day of the Dead Ceremony Honors Dead Advocates for Medical Aid in Dying Act

Candle lighting celebration honors deceased New Yorkers who suffered at life’s end and tried to pass Medical Aid in Dying Act.

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To recognize the Latino celebration of Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), Compassion & Choices today honored the memory of deceased advocates of the New York’s medical aid-in-dying bill and urged lawmakers to pass it.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act (S.3151/A.2383) would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adult New Yorkers with six months or less to live the option to request, obtain and self-ingest medication to die peacefully in their sleep if their suffering becomes unbearable. Polling shows 77 percent of state voters support medical aid in dying.

Medical aid in dying has made headlines among Latinos because of the advocacy of Dan Diaz (the husband of the late Brittany Maynard), Miguel Carrasquillo and the growing support of national Latino organizations. These organizations include the Hispanic Council on Aging, Latino Commission on AIDS, Hispanic Health Network and Latinos for Healthcare Equity.

From left to right, Dr. Jamie R. Torres, Dan Diaz, Nilsa Centeno and Guillermo Chacon at Compassion & Choices 2018 Day of the Dead ceremony, Clemente Soto Velez Center, Nov. 1, 2018.

“This year several strong advocates, gravely ill, generously devoted precious energy and time to authorization of medical aid in dying in New York,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices. “They passed on before realizing the dream of dignity and autonomy at life’s end. We are here to honor their memory, and express our hope that lawmakers in Albany will expand end-of-life healthcare options, so the efforts of these selfless and courageous individuals will not have been in vain.”

Advocates from different cultures, some with faces painted as white skulls, kicked off the Day of the Dead celebration with a procession at the Clemente Soto Velez Center in New York City. Inside was a colorful and decorated altar with photos of the late Miguel Carrasquillo, Brittany Maynard and New Yorkers who died during their fight for the option of medical aid in dying.

For the last three years, Compassion & Choices has been working with Assemblymember Amy Paulin, Senator Diane Savino and Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Two hearings with more than 70 testimonies were held earlier this year, in Albany and New York City.

“I am pleased to join Compassion & Choices’ Day of the Dead commemoration in honor of those New Yorkers who fought tirelessly until their last breath trying to pass the state’s Medical Aid in Dying Act,” said State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Dist. 33/Northwest Bronx to East Bronx. “I look forward to working with my fellow legislators to allow New Yorkers suffering from terminal diseases the option to make an end-of-life care decision in a dignified and compassionate manner.”

The celebration occurs four years to the day of the death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman who moved to Oregon so she could die peacefully when she could no longer tolerate the suffering caused by glioblastoma, the same kind of brain cancer that recently killed U.S. Senator John McCain. Her 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.

“No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape the cycle of life and death,” said Guillermo Chacon, cancer survivor and president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network. “My belief is that if the time comes when we can’t bear the suffering that afflicted Miguel and so many of my friends who died of cancer, or AIDS, a merciful God will understand that we all should have the option to die peacefully.”

“Terminally ill adults with a medical prognosis of six months or less to live who consider using medical aid in dying are not deciding between life and death,” said Dr. Jaime R. Torres, president, Latinos for Healthcare Equity. “Their outcome is determined. They will die. Their only two options are a prolonged, painful death or a peaceful death.”

Dan Diaz recalled his 29-year-old late wife as he fought back tears.

“Brittany was able to focus on truly living life because she didn’t have to be terrified of how her dying process might play out,” he said. “She died peacefully, thanks to the option of medical aid in dying.”

Miguel Carrasquillo’s mom, Nilsa Centeno spoke about her son, a 35-year-old, former New York chef who advocated for medical aid-in-dying laws as he was dying in agony from terminal brain cancer in 2016.

Miguelito was not a sinner for wanting to die peacefully, as some religious opponents of medical aid in dying would dare to suggest,” she said. “He simply wanted to peacefully end to his suffering, not out of despair or depression, but to maintain some comfort in his final days so that he could pass gently.”


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