Erin Gilmer, a lawyer and disability rights activist who fought for medical privacy, lower drug prices and a more compassionate health care system as she confronted a cascade of illnesses that left her unable to work or even get out of bed for long stretches, died July 7 in Centennial, Colorado. She was 38.
Anne Marie Mercurio, a friend to whom Gilmer had given power of attorney, said the cause was suicide.
First in Texas and later in Colorado, where she had her own law practice, Gilmer pushed for legislation that would make health care more responsive to patients’ needs, including a state law, passed in 2019, that allows pharmacists in Colorado to provide certain medications without a current prescription if a patient’s doctor cannot be reached.
She was a frequent consultant to hospitals, universities and pharmaceutical companies, bringing an extensive knowledge of health care policy and even more-extensive firsthand experience as a patient.
At conferences and on social media, she used her own life to illustrate the degradations and difficulties that she said were inherent in the modern medical system, in which she believed patients and doctors alike were treated as cogs in a machine.
Her conditions included rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, borderline personality disorder and occipital neuralgia, which produces intensely painful headaches. Her lengthy medical file presented a challenge to doctors used to addressing patients in 15-minute visits, and she said she often found herself dismissed as “difficult” simply because she tried to advocate for herself.
“Too often patients have to wonder: ‘Will they believe me?’” she wrote on Twitter in May. “ ‘Will they help me? Will they cause more trauma? Will they listen and understand?’ ”
She spoke often about her financial difficulties; despite her law degree, she said, she had to rely on food stamps. But she acknowledged that her race gave her the privilege to cut corners.