My parents and maternal grandparents were born in New Mexico, and I was born in a small mining town in the mountains of northern New Mexico. My father was a farm worker and miner by trade, a union activist and won a seat in the New Mexico Legislature in 1938. My mother also was incredibly independent and had an entrepreneurial spirit. Their compassion for others and their community activism inspired me. That’s why I have spent my life respecting other people’s rights and fighting for equality, civil liberties and justice for Latinos.
Currently in New Mexico, where nearly 48 percent of the population is Hispanic, there is a civil liberties issue that I stand passionately for: end-of-life care options. Only a terminally-ill person should decide which end-of-life care option is right for them, in consultation with their doctors, their family and their faith leaders. It is a decision that should be free from government interference.
Sadly though, many terminally ill New Mexicans are needlessly suffering because they don’t have access to the full range of end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care. Many of us work hard everyday to provide equitable access to quality healthcare for our communities, but we need to also work to ensure quality end-of-life care for people who are suffering from a terminal illness.
When there is nothing else that medicine can do and it becomes impossible to provide relief from extreme suffering, we should allow a person the option to peacefully end their suffering.
This issue is very personal to me. I watched my mother suffer and die in agony from breast cancer, so I know first-hand about the desperate need for expanded choice at the end of life. That is why I spent long hours in California working to pass the state’s End of Life Option Act, authorizing medical aid in dying, that took effect in 2016.
Thankfully, in January New Mexico legislators have the opportunity to consider similar legislation. The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act (HB 90) would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults the option to request medication they can decide to take to peacefully end intolerable suffering and die in their sleep. It is an option that 65 percent of New Mexicans support, including 58 percent of New Mexico Catholics. The vast majority, 88 percent, of voters agree with the statement “how a terminally ill person chooses to end his/her life should be an individual decision and not a government decision.”
Aside from California, medical aid in dying is authorized in Oregon, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Montana, Vermont, Washington, and starting on Jan. 1, in Hawaii. Collectively, these eight jurisdictions represent nearly 1 out of 5 Americans, 19 percent, and have 40 years of combined experience safely using this end-of-life care option.
I urge members of the Legislature to stand with the majority of la gente of New Mexico, and work together as a community to hear the voice of terminally ill New Mexicans whose last wish in life is to die peacefully without unbearable, unnecessary suffering.
Si Se Puede – Yes We Can.
Dolores Huerta is president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union. She lives in Bakersfield, Calif.