Latinos: Generational And Religious Divide On 'Right To Die'


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By Wayne Jebian

The Connecticut General Assembly may not vote on the passage of an “Aid in Dying” bill this session, but the controversial legislation is sure to continue to be an ongoing debate.   To try to assess Latino attitudes on the issue, asked several Latinos their thoughts on the right of a terminally ill individual to ask their doctor for help in ending their own life.  We also  reviewed a more systematic survey by the Washington D.C. based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).
What may come as no surprise to some from the PRRI survey conducted in October, 2013, is that 61% of Latinos surveyed either opposed or “strongly” opposed assisted suicide compared to 45% for the overall non-Hispanic population.  However, the survey also shows Latino Catholics having greater support for the practice (39%), than Latino non-Catholics (34%).
According to Juhem Navarro-Rivera, a Research Associate at PRRI, Latino Catholics in the United States are usually more liberal on social issues than evangelicals, while the non-Catholics which does include many evangelicals, are much less a part of the North American mainstream.  As for generational differences in views, he says, ““You find that the greater the level of acculturation and the higher the level of education, such as in second- and third- generation residents of the continental United States, the more liberal people tend to be on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.”
To hear firsthand from younger generation Latinos, asked the opinions of a unscientific sampling of both Latino and non-Latino college students;  all the Latinos (all second-generation Connectiriquenos) spoke out in support of the practice. “If a person is terribly ill and is in constant pain and suffering, it’s the right thing to do to spare them from the agony and pain that they’re going through,” said Eric Maldonado.
One female student, who declined to be identified, said, “In my opinion, assisted suicide will help the patient die with dignity. The patient and their family won’t suffer anymore. Patients will have the opportunity to say their final goodbye to their family and put everything in their life in order.”
However, even those who thought the procedure necessary, did have some mixed feelings about it. “On the other hand, assisted suicide goes against religious, moral and rules,” said this same anonymous Latina. “Many religions have a law against killing.”
Interestingly, and  perhaps due to the sensitivity of the topic, Latinas were virtually the only ones asked who were unwilling to have their names accompany their opinions.
Even second-generation U.S. Latinas appeared very reluctant to offend their elders, particularly where religious beliefs are involved. “I could discuss this issue with my husband, who would probably agree with me, but I would never say my opinion to my mother,” said Elisha Martinez.
Fernando Marroquin, who was a practicing surgeon in Guatemala before coming to Connecticut, said that just as a medical professional considers the context when deciding whether to allow or even help a patient die, the individual scenario will also determine how people will answer the question of whether they favor or oppose the practice. “Right now, I can’t say to you whether I agree with it 100% or disagree 100%.”
Marroquin said that based on his own experience, it is a choice that most medical professionals will encounter in their careers, such as turning off a ventilator and allowing a patient to die when the patient has been diagnosed with brain death. Timing also plays a role in the perception of assisted suicide as necessary or not. “If a patient has a terminal disease, the fact is that he will die anyway.” Then the question becomes, how much suffering is that patient experiencing, and can the patient communicate this suffering to his or her family?
Like Marroquin, several of the college students we spoke with had professional experience in the medical field. Sometimes witnessing the suffering of patients as part of their jobs convinced them that assisted suicide can be necessary. “I feel strongly about this choice with people who suffer from ALS also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease,” wrote an anonymous Latina. “People with this disease suffer beyond extreme. It’s like they’re trapped in their own body with their brain fully functioning, but they can’t move or talk…If they have the right to assisted suicide, they will no longer have to experience the pain or agony until they die.”
Others say that participating in the practice on the job pushed them in exactly the opposite direction. Carnetta Reed, a non-Latino student, assisted with terminally ill patients, but she said she had to switch jobs because of the psychological toll it took. “I had a guy die in my arms,” she recalled. Looking back, she has many regrets. “He was 42, and they only told him that the drugs were to make him more comfortable. He did not even know what was happening to him.”
Even though the Public Religion Research Institute survey showed non-Latinos in the Northeast to be the least likely to oppose to the practice, found this same group the most likely to speak out against it, whether black or white.
“It’s not the way you were meant to leave this earth,” said Tyler Alston.
Marroquin says that even if you know where you stand, there are still heart-wrenching ethical issues to consider, especially for the patients themselves. He thinks a terminally ill patient trying to make this decision should still take the family into account: “If you make that decision on your own, then you’re just being selfish. What about your family and their feelings? Your family should be part of the conversation before anyone has to make this kind of a decision. What about those family members whom you are leaving behind?”