The New Mexico state Senate has passed a bill to decriminalize assisted suicide, which the state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed.
The bill, known as the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act,” allows licensed physicians, osteopathic physicians, nurses, and physician assistants to prescribe a lethal drug to people with a terminal illness and the ability to self-administer the drug.
The states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia, have already legalized assisted suicide.
Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe earlier this month decried the proposed law as “the worst in the nation” and a threat to the vulnerable.
“We continue to work to promote just laws, but know that God’s law transcends any human laws. God’s law calls us all to recognize and protect the life and dignity of each and every human being, especially the most vulnerable. This includes unborn children and those at the end of life,” Wester said March 3.
“We are promised that God’s law will ultimately bring peace and new life, especially to those who are suffering.”
Under the bill, a medical professional must determine that the individual has the capacity to give informed consent. Those with mental health disorders or intellectual disabilities may request assisted suicide after further medical evaluation by a mental health professional, the bill says.
At least two witnesses must sign the request for assisted suicide, as must the patient. The bill requires a 48-hour waiting period between a doctor writing a prescription for lethal drugs and the prescription being filled.
The bill does provide that the medical professional must inform the patient of “potential associated risks” with taking the lethal medication, as well as “concurrent or additional treatment opportunities, including hospice care and palliative care focused on relieving symptoms and reducing suffering.”
The Senate passed the bill on March 16 by a 24-17 vote, largely along party lines, with two Democrats voting against it. The bill passed the House last month.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is believed likely to sign the bill. The Associated Press reported that if signed into law, New Mexico would become the second state to pass a right-to-die law where a third or more of adults are Catholic, after New Jersey.
In 2019 a similar bill also called the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act” failed to pass the New Mexico House of Representatives.
That version of the bill did not clearly define whether residents of states other than New Mexico might be allowed to avail themselves of assisted suicide. It was reported in some publications that the bill lacked a residency requirement completely, meaning patients coming from other states to seek the procedure, so-called “suicide tourism,” could become a reality.
The 2021 bill includes a residency requirement.
The current bill would require some statistics to be collected on the characteristics of individuals who receive prescriptions for assisted suicide. However, it would require the cause of death to be listed as the person’s underlying illness, not assisted suicide.
Health care entities, professional associations, and similar organizations are barred from censuring or disciplining both licensed professionals who aid in legal assisted suicide and those who refuse to aid in legal assisted suicide. Entities that ban assisted suicide from taking place in their facilities or by professionals in their employ may sanction those who nonetheless assist in a suicide.
Health care providers who have conscientious objections to assisted suicide must refer individuals who request assisted suicide to individuals or entities that can provide it. Health care entities that bar “medical aid in dying” must display this on their websites and in any appropriate patient materials.
Anyone who assists a suicide without complying with the law can still face fourth degree felony charges.
The bill comes on the heels of the governor fulfilling a campaign promise to repeal a law that would have banned most abortions in the state if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.
New Mexico passed a law in 1969 that prohibited abortion in most circumstances, but the law was rendered moot in 1973 when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling struck down state abortion bans nationwide.
However, Governor Lujan Grisham signed a repeal of the 1969 law on Feb. 26, saying “A woman has the right to make decisions about her own body,” the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported.