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One Year Without My Son, Miguel

By Nilsa Centeno

The original editorial was published in  Diario NY, (New York) La Opinión,(Los Angeles)  La Raza (Chicago).

Miguel and Nilsa, his mother.

I feel lost, numb. Not only did I lose my only son, I feel as if I failed the sacred duty to protect my child. But fulfilling the last promise I made to Miguel before his painful death to cancer is what keeps me alive. It gives me the strength to keep living.

June 5 marks the one-year anniversary of the death of my son, Miguel Carrasquillo.  And even though pain devours me every day, not a single one goes without me continuing to carry out his last wish: to urge legislators nationwide to pass laws to give terminally ill people the option he did not have of medical aid in dying to end unbearable suffering.

Contrary to some critics’ claims, Miguelito was not a sinner for wanting to die peacefully.  

He simply wanted 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.

My son did not die in vain.

Latino support

Latino support for medical aid in dying has significantly increased since Miguel recorded his first video advocating for this end-of-life care option  in Spanish in April 2015, enabling the first states with large Latino populations to pass such laws, including California (39%) in September 2015 and Colorado (21%) in November 2016.

Compassion & Choices also recorded additional videos of him in English and in Spanish in March 2016 to urge lawmakers nationwide to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation. Since January, such bills have been introduced in five states with large Latino populations: Arizona (31%), Nevada (28%), New Jersey (19%), New Mexico (48%) and New York (19%).

The threat to medical aid-in-dying laws

Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in seven U.S. jurisdictions: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado and the District of Columbia.

It’s hard to believe that there are still people who feel it is fair to impose their personal beliefs and values on others by preventing the vast majority of people in the United States who want this option from accessing it. In fact, opponents of medical aid in dying are trying to ban these compassionate and humane laws in the states and in the courts.

There are also national efforts to block these laws in Congress, a state lawsuit to overturn the law in California and a federal lawsuit to undermine the law in Vermont.

Miguel’s heartbreaking story

Miguel was a chef when he lived in New York City and Chicago for several years prior to being diagnosed in 2012 with an aggressive, deadly brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme. Despite bravely enduring excruciatingly painful treatments to try to cure his cancer, it spread to his liver, stomach, testicles and other vital organs.

My son was an old soul with a contagious smile who stood out for his ability to advocate for change, even while he was suffering in agony. Miguel was only 35 years old when the aggressive brain tumor took his life on June 5, 2016, just four days before the End of Life Option Act went into effect in California on June 9, 2016.  

Miguel brought change

Miguel became a voice for Latinos, a community he loved and fought for until his last breath. He was proud to refer to himself as the “Latino Brittany Maynard.”

And he brought change.

Thanks to the advocacy of Latinos such as Dan Diaz, Dr. Robert Olvera and my son Miguel, who was inspired by Diaz’ wife, Brittany Maynard, 69 percent of Hispanics nationwide support medical aid in dying.

In addition, prominent Latinos like Univision anchor Jorge Ramos and Latino celebrities in Hollywood like actor Mauricio Ochmann have come forward to urge Latinos to advocate for passage of medical aid-in-dying laws nationwide.

Miguel’s advocacy paved the way for Latino lawmakers in New York, Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz and Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez, to support that state’s Medical Aid in Dying Act. Latino lawmakers also support similar legislation in Arizona, Nevada and New Jersey.

Death and God

I will never forget the last time I caressed and kissed my son’s beautiful yet tired face. He was in so much pain.

We spoke about God. Miguelito’s voice was frail. His words were mumbled. Yet he reminded me to keep fighting for his legacy.

Miguel died minutes later, without the end-of-life option he fought for.

Although my son’s voice has gone silent, mine has not.

Nilsa Centeno is a single mother who lives in Cidra, Puerto Rico.

*To read the Spanish version click here.