February 18, 2017

Revised bill on aid in dying could get some GOP support

Several Republican members of the state House Judiciary Committee signaled late last week that they could support a bill allowing terminally ill patients to end their own lives. But they raised concerns about whether the measure would provide enough safeguards for patients.

The sponsor, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, agreed during a committee hearing Friday to rewrite sections of House Bill 171 to address some of those concerns. She is expected to present a revised bill to the committee next week.

HB 171 would change a 1963 law that makes it a fourth-degree felony for anyone to assist in a person’s suicide and would allow medical professionals to prescribe lethal drugs to patients who meet certain criteria. The patients would have to be mentally competent, for example, and would have to administer the drugs themselves.

Many New Mexicans living with serious illnesses have packed hearings on the bill to share their stories and plead for options in planning for the end of their lives.

Elizabeth Whitefield, a retired family court judge from Albuquerque, recounted her painful battles with various cancers that have left her struggling to talk, walk and eat.

Whitefield told the committee she expects her death will be slow and painful.

“I do not want to put my family or my husband through that,” she said. “… I will not let cancer rob me of my dignity.”

Armstrong’s bill passed through the House Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month on 4-3 party-line vote, with all Republicans voting against the measure. But on Friday, some GOP members of the House Judiciary committee said they could support it with greater safeguards.

“People facing these decisions are necessarily vulnerable,” said House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque.

Armstrong said she would be open to narrowing the type of medical professionals who could assist a patient in ending their own life and requiring patients get a second opinion, among other prospective changes.

If the committee advances the new version of the bill, it would go to a vote before the entire House.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.