Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 10, 2021 / 19:01 pm
The New Mexico legislature could soon pass an assisted suicide bill that is "the worst in the nation", Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has said, lamenting "bills that threaten vulnerable life."
Wester said H.B. 47, which would legalize assisted suicide, is quickly moving through the legislature.
"This assisted suicide bill is set to be the worst in the nation, making it a requirement that all patients in hospice care be offered assisted suicide as an option," Archbishop Wester said March 3. "This as we struggle to dissuade our young people from taking their lives when they are struggling with depression and despondency."
The bill allows licensed physicians, licensed osteopathic physicians, licensed nurses, and licensed physician assistants to prescribe a lethal drug to people with a terminal illness and the ability to self-administer the drug. The medical professional must determine that the individual has the capacity to give informed consent. At least two witnesses must sign the request for assisted suicide, as must the patient.
Those with mental health disorders or intellectual disabilities may still request assisted suicide after further medical evaluation.
The bill has passed the Democratic-controlled House Health and Human Services Committee in a 7-4 party-line vote. It will head to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration. The Democratic-controlled Senate is considering a parallel bill and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is believed likely to sign the bill if it passes the legislature. In 2019 a similar bill failed to pass the House of Representatives.
The 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 professionals 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 still 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.
Eight other U.S. states presently allow assisted suicide.
Archbishop Wester also lamented the recent repeal of the state's abortion ban, saying it legalizes abortions "with very few restrictions."
"Particularly concerning is that this law also removes all conscience protections for medical providers and requirements that abortion be performed only by a doctor, both of which had been enforceable, even under Roe v. Wade," he said.
"With these bills, I wonder, what have we become?" Wester asked. "Though we are saddened by the repeal of abortion restrictions and the possible legalization of assisted suicide, we do not lose hope. We continue 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. We are promised that God's law will ultimately bring peace and new life, especially to those who are suffering."
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, 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.
"Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization," she said, adding, "New Mexico is not in that business - not anymore."
Steve Pearce, chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, said the repeal was "a sad day for New Mexico." He characterized the governor signing the bill to "signing a death warrant."
"The new law is an immoral, dangerous one - a law that allows late-term abortion and offers no protections for girls, women or health professionals," he said.
A similar bill passed the state House of Representatives in the 2019 legislative session, but eight Senate Democrats joined Republicans to block the bill.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico backed the repeal of the 1969 abortion ban, calling it "constitutional" and "outdated."
The New Mexico Alliance for Life said repeal could force medical professionals to perform abortions or assist in them because there are no explicit state or federal conscience protections.
Elisa Martinez, a spokesperson for New Mexico Alliance for Life, told KOB-TV that the group and pro-life legislators are together pushing for the criminalization of abortion to be removed from the 1969 law, but that it should be "replaced with protections for women, for unborn children and for medical professionals."
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe led a Jan. 25 webcast rosary during the debate over the proposed legislation.
The repeal of the abortion ban and the possible legalization of assisted suicide are "gravely disappointing but not defeating," Archbishop Wester said. "Just as the disciples witnessed Jesus' death and resurrection, we understand disappointment. And we know that love wins. We work to protect vulnerable life, especially the unborn and those at the end of life, with the hope of changing hearts with love."
"Protecting the unborn, providing alternatives to abortion, and walking with those at the end of life require systemic changes that transcend political parties," the archbishop said. "We journey with women facing the wrenching decision of whether to have an abortion and with women who have had an abortion, making God's mercy known to them. We walk with families and individuals who are facing the end of life, providing them with hope and mercy, trusting that love wins."