New Mexico legalizes assisted suicide

Lethal injection Oleksandr Lysenko/Shutterstock

New Mexico’s governor on Thursday signed a bill legalizing assisted suicide in the state.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act,” named for a late state district court judge who died of cancer in 2018, and who became an advocate for assisted-suicide in her final years.

The bill allows licensed physicians, osteopathic physicians, nurses, and physician assistants to prescribe a lethal dose of medication for terminally-ill patients who are deemed capable of self-administering the dose.

New Mexico is now the eighth state to have legalized physician-assisted suicide, along with California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia has also legalized the practice.

The state’s Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the bill, which was passed by the House in February and by the Senate in March, largely along a party-line vote.

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe stated on March 3 that the legislation was “the worst in the nation.”

“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,” he stated. “We are promised that God’s law will ultimately bring peace and new life, especially to those who are suffering.”

The bill requires two licensed health care providers, one of them a doctor, to determine a patient’s terminal illness. Patients in hospice do not require a second confirmation.

If the patient has a history of a mental health disorder or intellectual disability – or if the providers believe they have a disorder – they must be referred for a mental health assessment before a prescription is filled.

For the request for a lethal dose of medication, two witnesses must be present, and only one may be a relative of the patient. The bill requires a 48-hour waiting period between the prescription being written and it being filed.

Some amendments in the bill were struck before it passed the state Senate. Amendments allowing for insurance collection and waiving liability for health care providers were removed, AP reported.

The bill still contains a state residency requirement, which a 2019 version of the legislation did not include. Some critics warned that the previous bill would have enabled “suicide tourism” where patients would travel from out-of-state to receive a lethal prescription. That bill also allowed for lethal prescriptions to be issued remotely through telemedicine.

The 2021 bill does include a conscience exemption for health care providers who refuse to provide a lethal prescription, but it requires them to inform the patient and refer them to another provider who will provide the prescription.

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