The latest from Compassion & Choices

September Note From the President and CEO

As we recognize the contributions of people of Latin American descent, we also must recognize the disparities in end-of-life care they have faced for generations and continue to face today.

This month we celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month. It is important to take the time to celebrate and honor those who have come before us and contributed to what is now a beautiful mix of cultures that make up America. At Compassion & Choices, we also view this as a time to bring to people’s attention the importance of end-of-life planning and care among Hispanic/Latino Americans and the need for promoting greater access to planning and care for the end of life.  

For people of Latin American descent, the disparities in end-of-life care are a reality every day. They are far less likely to receive hospice care, palliative care and proper pain management at the end of life as compared with their white counterparts — an injustice we are working to address. 

Yet, Hispanic/Latino Americans are more likely than other populations to say they generally are comfortable talking about death. The observance of Day of the Dead is a perfect example that demonstrates this comfort level. (Although it originated in Mexico, Day of the Dead is keenly observed by Latinos across the country and the world.) I remember a Day of the Dead celebration I attended several years ago. It was breathtaking to watch the vibrant and festive way a culture thoroughly embraces death as part of the human experience. 

Planning for death appears to be something else entirely. Hispanic Americans, despite their willingness to see death as a natural part of their existence, are less likely to say they’ve had a conversation with a loved one about their own wish for end-of-life medical care or to have completed an advance directive. This month’s op-ed by Cecilia Vasquez-Vigil is a prime example. Cecilia’s mom had not completed her advance directive before her death. Yet, she had paid for and planned all of the details of her funeral — down to the Mariachi band. Cecilia was left heartbroken, watching her mother take her last breaths alone in a hospital room. 

As we look forward to Day of the Dead this November 2, I think back to that celebration I attended a few years ago. I remember Barrie Lynn Krich, who moved from Missouri to California just so she would have the option of medical aid in dying if her suffering from her terminal cancer became unbearable. Just as she arrived, the law was struck down and wasn’t enacted until 2015. Thankfully, she eventually was able to use the law and able to approach death the same way she lived. 

We have lost some strong advocates who generously gave us their last, precious moments of life to advocate for medical aid in dying. As we celebrate the passing of the California End of Life Options Act through the Legislature and wait for it to be signed by the governor, we dedicate the reauthorization to those who have struggled to access it, like Barrie Lynn and the others who have come before and after her.