The New Mexico Senate passed a controversial bill Monday that would allow terminally ill patients who are of sound mind to take their own lives with the aid of a physician. The bill will soon head to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign the measure into law once the state House of Representatives, which already has approved the bill, concurs with a number of amendments. “The governor has been a lifelong advocate for seniors and their independence, as well as for the importance of dignity and respect in making choices about one’s own health and treatment,” Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, wrote in an email. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, described the measure as “compassion for the suffering” and said nine other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation. “A 2020 Gallup poll indicates 74 percent of Americans support an end-of-life option,” Stefanics said at the end of a 2½-hour debate.
A controversial bill that would allow terminally ill patients who are of sound mind to ask a physician to prescribe drugs to help them die is moving to the Senate floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday voted 5-3 to support the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. The committee’s three Republican members opposed the legislation.
House Bill 47 is named after a judge who died of cancer in 2018 after lobbying legislators for years to approve a so-called right-to-die bill to help those who are terminally ill and want to end their suffering with dignity. Proponents of the measure say it would give patients who are facing a painful death some control over ending their life the way they want to.
Their doctor would approve any such decisions and prescribe life-ending drugs, but only after getting a second opinion and ensuring the patient was mentally and emotionally fit to make such a choice.
For Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, the debate over the bill hits close to home. Her daughter, Erin, has fought cancer for 20 years.
Some say House Bill 37 would allow “death with dignity.” Others refer to the practice as doctor-assisted suicide. The controversial measure, which would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, has failed in previous legislative sessions in New Mexico. The 2021 version received its first committee endorsement Friday but faces some fierce opposition as its makes its way through the Legislature. Arguments on both sides of the measure touch on sensitive issues: Personal choice.
A bill to allow medical aid in dying is headed for a vote in the New Mexico House of Representatives after a committee of lawmakers on Wednesday tweaked the legislation, requiring a physician to be included among the two health care professionals needed to sign off on a terminally ill patient’s decision to end their life. House Bill 90 has prompted some of the most emotional discussions of the legislative session, raising issues of life, death and the government’s role in deeply personal medical decisions. The bill also has prompted several rounds of amendments by lawmakers weighing exactly how the process should work for patients seeking such a choice. Under what is known as the End of Life Options Act, a terminally ill patient who is mentally competent and has only six months to live could ask a prescribing health care provider for drugs that would allow him to end his own life. The patient would have to speak with a health care provider about alternatives, such as further treatment, and make the request in writing with witnesses.
A legislative committee decided Monday that medical professionals would have to determine a patient has no more than six months to live before prescribing drugs that would help the patient end his or her own life. By tweaking the bill to give it a time frame, lawmakers who support the measure hope to add New Mexico to a short list of states that permit medical assistance in dying. Critics had raised concerns about exactly which patients would qualify under House Bill 90. It was originally written to allow medical aid in dying for patients diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die in the foreseeable future. Other states with similar laws limit medical aid in dying to patients only expected to live for only a particular period.
Elizabeth Whitefield walked the halls of the state Capitol a couple of years ago, urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would let her choose when and how to end a long struggle with cancer. The disease, she told one committee, had stolen everything from her — the ability to work, to eat, to drink. The retired judge from Albuquerque was blunt: She expected death would be slow and painful. “Don’t let me die without dignity,” she said in pushing for legislation that would allow medical professionals to prescribe terminally ill patients lethal drugs to end their own lives. The state Senate voted down the bill.
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.
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.
Emotional and personal stories filled a legislative hearing room Friday morning before lawmakers voted on party lines to pass a bill to allow aid in dying. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of HB 171, which would allow terminally ill patients the choice to end their own lives through a lethal dose of prescribed medication. Before the vote, several lawmakers were in tears when discussing personal stories about the issue. Committee Chair Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told the committee she cared for four friends and family members as they approached death. Armstrong recounted sleeping at the foot of her friend’s bed, waking every few hours to administer pain medication.
Michael McCamley liked to plan. It was part of his job in the U.S. Army and according to his son, state Rep. Bill McCamley of Dona Ana County, that instinct to plan for the unexpected extended to family matters, including death. In 2010, doctors diagnosed the retired lieutenant colonel with a rare, terminal disease similar to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. After discussing it with his family, the elder McCamley decided to fill out an advance directive stating that he was not to be kept alive artificially if and when that time came. “Everyone knew what the situation was and what his decision was,” Rep. McCamley said.