Brandi Alexander is the regional campaign and outreach manager for Compassion & Choices, the nation's leading, non-profit end-of-life choice advocacy organization. (Courtesy photo)
The day my father died from prostate cancer -- Jan 11, 2011 -- is the day I decided that no family should ever experience the same pain. That day everything changed for me. I had worked for seven years at an organization whose sole focus is end-of-life care, yet I had not had even one conversation with my father about his end-of-life wishes. It was truly a wake-up call, an eye-opening experience I hope I never have to repeat.
Imagine sitting in a hospital room with your unresponsive father, your five siblings on one side of the bed, and his new wife and her five children on the other side. It was like a stare-down session before a big competitive match. People on both sides thought they were best equipped to speak on my father's behalf. The sad reality is that none of us -- not one of the 11 people in that room -- had a clue about what he wanted. He had no advance directive, had never had a serious conversation about his end-of-life wishes, not even with me: an end-of-life care advocate.
Since that fateful day three-and-a-half years ago, I have learned that horrible situations at the end of life are far too common in this country, especially among people of color, and the African-American community in particular. In fact, according to the 2002 Institute of Medicine Report, "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care," African Americans are "dying from treatable and preventable illnesses with more frequency than other ethnic groups. The research indicates that racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services," even when insured. Experts also say this disparity means patients are more likely to distrust terminal and otherwise grim diagnoses, endure unwanted medical treatments, and experience unnecessary pain and family strife.