By Teresa Barron
New Mexico has joined the movement toward expanding end-of-life options. With the passing of HB 47 on March 15, New Mexico removed criminal and civil liability for health care providers who help terminally ill patients end their lives. The new law, called the Elizabeth Whitfield End-of-Life Options Act, is named after a former New Mexico judge who supported giving terminally ill patients the right to end their own lives back in 2017. Whitfield, who died of cancer the following year, was quoted saying, “I implore you to give me the choice that is right for me.”
The main requirements for New Mexico’s end of life options act are, (1) The patient must have a terminal diagnosis, (2) The patient must undergo both a physical and mental health evaluation, (3) There must be a 48-hour waiting period after receiving a lethal prescription before it is filled.
New Mexico is a state with a significant Catholic population. As the Catholic Church has long taken a stance against assisted death, HB 47 faced strong opposition.
Opponents worried that the law would mandate doctors to violate the Hippocratic Oath, allow greedy relatives to speed up deaths of their family members to receive their inheritance, and minimize the sanctity of human life. In the end, pleas to provide peace and control in the face of intense suffering won out.
The Senate hearing was described as being highly emotional. Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, a Democrat representing Albuquerque, recalled being unable to help her mother deal with her suffering as she died of cancer.
She co-sponsored HB 47, arguing that it would promote autonomy for patients who choose to receive aid to avoid intense suffering at the end of their lives.
Rep. Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque asserted that the only thing more difficult than talking about this issue “is living it.”
Her daughter Erin also testified, asking the Senate to grant her peace in her long-lasting journey with cancer.
New Mexico is the ninth state to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation, and many other states, such as Arizona and Connecticut, are considering a move toward similar laws, often modeling their laws after those in other states like Oregon.
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