New Mexico considers legalizing medically assisted suicide

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State lawmakers are considering whether to legalize medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

A proposal from Democratic Rep. Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque and Sen. Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe sets out assisted-suicide protocols that include authorization from two medical providers and a 48-hour waiting period once life-ending drugs have been prescribed.

It’s the first test of an assisted suicide bill since the election last year of a Democratic governor and a larger Democratic House majority. Current law that withstood a Supreme Court challenge in 2016 makes it a felony for a physician to assist a patient in ending his or her life.

Stefanics on Monday emphasized humanitarian aspects of the proposal to provide “end-of-life options” to reduce suffering.

“We have a lot of medical advances, but we also have some conditions that are extremely painful and horrible at the end of life,” she said.

The initiative’s opponents include local leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and an array of Republican legislators.

Republican Rep. Gregg Schmedes, a surgeon from Tijeras, said the legislation does not require that a medical professional be present when lethal drugs are administered and opens the door to potential abuses by predatory family heirs and others.

“It allows for the perfect crime,” he said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on reforming the state’s prohibition on medically assisted suicide and supports the newly filed legislation from Armstrong and Stefanics, said Nora Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

The legislation would create the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act,” named for a former state district judge who testified in favor of a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in 2017. That bill was defeated by a 22-20 vote of the state Senate. Whitefield died of cancer in August 2018.

Oregon passed the first right-to-die law in the nation in 1998, followed by Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado and Hawaii. Washington D.C. implemented its own statute in 2017.

Montana’s state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors could use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against any criminal charges.