Let's give Californians the option of death with dignity

  • by Ari Gutiérrez-Arámbula
  • Wednesday November 19, 2014
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Ari Gutiérrez-Arámbula, at the podium, spoke at Los<br>Angeles City Hall on marriage issues on the occasion of decision day 2012. Photo:<br>S.D. Evans/Latino Equality Alliance <br><br><br><br><br><br><br>
Ari Gutiérrez-Arámbula, at the podium, spoke at Los
Angeles City Hall on marriage issues on the occasion of decision day 2012. Photo:
S.D. Evans/Latino Equality Alliance 

On November 1, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old Californian with terminal brain cancer, died with dignity at her home in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by her family.

I never met Maynard, but like millions of people throughout the country, I followed her brave story with compassion and respect.

Maynard was so young, yet she launched a brave campaign with advocacy group Compassion and Choices for a law that allows mentally competent, terminally ill individuals with less than six months to live the option to obtain a prescription for medication that they can self-administer to end their dying process if it becomes unbearable.

Maynard and her family moved from their home in the Bay Area to Oregon because the state is one of a few with such a law.

Maynard shared her story in such a selfless way that has bestowed upon us a challenge " a challenge for us to think about what we would do, if we were in her position.


Death with dignity

California needs a death with dignity law.


Because many Californians are suffering needlessly and enduring relentless pain from terminal cancer and other life-shortening diseases. Unfortunately, many make ill-advised decisions to end their own lives violently when they should be able to die with peace and dignity.

That is why I joined the aid in dying movement in California and I urge you to do the same.

As a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, which has learned to insist on equal rights, respect, and dignity for ourselves and that of our families, I find it unacceptable that terminally ill, fully competent adults like Maynard have to leave their homes, their families and communities, and their medical teams in order to die peacefully, in comfort.

Most Americans cannot make a move like the one Maynard had to make. Very few people who are dying have the energy, information, and resources to uproot their life, forego their support system, and re-establish residency during their dying process.

We must do something about that.


AIDS pandemic

I came of age during the AIDS pandemic that devastated our community. For those of my generation the loss of so many close friends to AIDS in itself is tragic. Now, as those of us who have survived the AIDS pandemic face the prospect of aging gracefully and powerfully, we must also prepare ourselves, our family, our friends, and our community for the possibility of a terminal illness and the physically and emotionally devastating pain that would more than likely accompany such a diagnosis.

I recently lost a close friend but I feel it wasn't the bone and brain cancer that killed her " it was the excruciating pain she faced during her dying process. Her hospice care included a machine that automatically dispensed medication to alleviate her pain. Unfortunately, she didn't have the strength to press the button that provided the numbing medication.

As Californians, as LGBT activists for the constitutional right to marry, as a community that demands dignity in how we are treated in the workplace, for safety in our communities and acceptance and love from our extended families, we must likewise demand the right to have the choice to die with dignity.


Take action

Terminally ill Californians need our help and we must take action.

Let's contact our elected officials and talk to them about the importance of improving care and expanding choice at the end of life, specifically to allow the medical practice of aid in dying in California.

No one should have to suffer excruciating and unnecessary pain at the end of their lives.

All of us in California should have the option to make this private and personal decision.

Let's make history and let's bring some change by making aid in dying a reality in California.

One way to get involved is through Compassion and Choices, the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. Leading the end-of-life choice movement for more than 30 years, it supports, educates, and advocates. In 2014, Compassion and Choices launched a campaign to make death with dignity an end-of-life option for Californians.


Ari Guti�rrez-Ar�mbula, co-founder and advisory board chair of the Latino Equality Alliance, is a Los Angeles-based LGBT community leader. Her volunteer work with the Latino Equality Alliance focuses on LGBTQ leadership development in Latino communities. Due to homophobia and other factors, AIDS disproportionally affects communities of color. For more information follow: www.LatinoEqualityAlliance.com. She is also a member of the California Death with Dignity Coalition for Compassion and Choices California.


For information on Compassion and Choices California, visit www.compassionandchoices.org/california