March 15, 2017

Handful of Senate Dems help Republicans defeat aid-in-dying bill

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure.

Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors.

The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.

Related: Lawmakers push for ‘aid in dying’ in NM

Stefanics said her proposal was modeled after a law in Oregon that was adopted in 1997.

Among those backing the bill was Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, who said terminal patients in chronic pain should have the option to end their lives.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, countered that he couldn’t support the bill because of its inherent risks. Doctors, Brandt said, make mistakes every day. Someone diagnosed as terminally ill could actually recover, he said.

Last year, in a case involving a Santa Fe woman with what was thought to be terminal cancer, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the right to have a physician assist in a patient’s suicide was not a constitutional right. But the court left open the possibility of the Legislature adopting such a law.

The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the bill on the basis that all life is sacred. The bishops this session also supported anti-abortion bills and opposed a measure to reinstate the death penalty.

Democrats who voted against Stefanics’ bill were Pete Campos of Las Vegas; Carlos Cisneros of Questa; Richard Martinez of Española; George Muñoz of Gallup; Clemente Sanchez of Grants; Benny Shendo of Jemez Pueblo; and John Arthur Smith of Deming.

One Republican, Sen. Sander Rue, of Albuquerque, voted for the bill.

Besides Oregon, California, Washington, Vermont and Montana are among the states with assisted suicide laws.

The New Mexico Senate’s rejection of the bill probably means no end-of-life options legislation will reach the governor’s desk this year. A similar measure, House Bill 171, is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, but the session ends at noon Saturday. In addition, Gov. Susana Martinez has said she’d veto such a bill.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or Read his political blog at