New Mexico considers legalizing medically assisted suicide
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A measure that would legalize medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients in New Mexico received its first committee endorsement Monday after several hours of public testimony and deliberations by lawmakers.
A House panel voted 4-3 along party lines to advance the measure, with three Republicans in opposition.
Medically assisted suicide is legal in seven states and Washington, D.C. More than a dozen states are expected to consider this year legislation that allows the terminally ill to end their lives.
Provisions of the New Mexico bill that set it apart from legislation in other states include a shorter, two-day waiting period between the time a prescription for life-ending drugs is authorized and when it is made available to a patient.
Bob Schwartz, a University of New Mexico law professor who lectures on end-of-life care, said that he estimated one-third of patients or more die during the 15-day waiting period in some other states.
The New Mexico bill would add not only physicians but also physician assistants and nurse practitioners to the list of medical professionals who can prescribe life-ending medication, said Kimberly Callinan, CEO of the Compassion and Choices advocacy group. Authorizations from two medical professionals are required under the New Mexico bill.
Eligible patients must have less than an estimated six months to live and be able to ingest the life-ending medication on their own, said the bill from state Rep. Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque and Sen. Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe.
Steven Kanig, a retired New Mexico physician and delegate to the American Medical Association, said the New Mexico Medical Society has taken a neutral position on the bill, a sign of increasing tolerance toward life-ending treatments in the medical community.
“There are very few patients whose physical pain cannot be relieved by the various options to relieve pain,” he told the legislative panel. “What we are talking about here is emotional suffering for the most part. ... They have lost assurances that they can die on their own terms.”
Republican Rep. Gregg Schmedes, a surgeon from Albuquerque who voted against the bill, questioned the degree to which doctors can determine with certainty that any patient is going to die.
He also raised objections to a “conscience clause” in the bill that allows doctors to decline to participate in medically assisted suicide under all circumstances — but must refer the patient to another doctor.
The New Mexico Republican Party and local Roman Catholic church are opposed to the initiative. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports it.