A new bill being considered by New Mexico lawmakers has some opponents saying that it’s so radical, it’s the most dangerous bill yet. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and consultant for the Patients Rights Council, are both ringing alarm bells about New Mexico House Bill 90. Typically, assisted suicide bills have requirements to ostensibly prevent abuses, such as a terminal prognosis of 60 days or less to live, and barring people with mental health disorders from eligibility. New Mexico plans to do away with much of those safeguards.
According to Schadenberg and Smith, there are a number of concerning facets to this bill.
1. It does not require a prescription from a doctor.
A nurse, physician’s assistant, or even an osteopath can prescribe the fatal drugs. This is likely not something chosen cavalierly, as in countries with assisted suicide already legal, it’s not uncommon to find physicians unwilling to facilitate patient requests to die. By allowing non-doctors to participate, it makes it more likely that people seeking to kill themselves can find someone willing to cooperate.
2. It does not specify the length of time a patient has left to live needed to be eligible.
Typically, the requirement is 60 days, yet this bill merely requires a patient to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, “a disease or condition that is incurable and irreversible and that, in accordance with reasonable medical judgment, will result in death within the foreseeable future.” This leaves eligibility completely open; anyone could choose to take advantage of assisted suicide so long as they have any kind of illness that will persist for their entire life, from HIV to a progressive disability.
3. It requires providers to lie on the death certificate.
Rather than truthfully say that the person died of assisted suicide, the condition which made them eligible for assisted suicide will instead be listed. For example, if a woman with liver cancer chooses assisted suicide, her cause of death will be recorded as cancer, not suicide. This is concerning for more issues than just a desire to be truthful. “It would be impossible to determine if abuse of the law occurs,” Schadenberg pointed out.
4. It shortens the window of availability to just 48 hours — so a patient could get their first consultation and have their lethal prescription filled just two days later — and requires physicians to give patients the option of assisted suicide at the time of diagnosis with a terminal disease, even if the patient isn’t yet dying.
This is troubling, because as others battling terminal illnesses have pointed out, knowing suicide is available during their lowest moments is akin to an encouragement to stop fighting and choose death instead. Kristen Hanson, whose husband J.J. famously fought brain cancer and spoke out against assisted suicide until his death, talked of how even he wanted to die in his lowest moments. Hanson said he “felt such despair that he may have taken a lethal prescription had it been legal in New York, where we lived, and if he had it in his nightstand during his darkest days” and that he thought at times “ending his life would relieve the burden on his caretakers and allow him to bypass the experience of illness-induced disability that the disease would otherwise cause.”
5. It essentially erases the need for a second consultation, allowing telemedicine.
A second examination by a different physician is usually required, but with New Mexico’s bill, telemedicine is allowed. The bill also obliterates conscience protections, so any doctor unwilling to participate in assisted suicide is required to refer the patient to another provider who will. It also gives protections for providers who participate in assisted suicide, so if someone is misdiagnosed or the provider is otherwise neglectful, they cannot be held accountable, so long as they were “acting in good faith.” Smith noted, “[A] treating doctor could be sued for malpractice under the same circumstance under the more rigorous ‘reasonable practitioner’ standard of care that normally applies.”
6. People with mental health disorders and intellectual disabilities would be eligible for assisted suicide.
A licensed psychiatrist, psychologist, master social worker, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or professional clinical mental health counselor would need to approve, andapproval via telemedicine is allowed.
7. It encourages assisted suicide tourism.
There is no residency requirement, so essentially, if the bill is passed, it allows anyone in the United States to kill themselves. All they have to do is travel to New Mexico for a few days, and death is within anyone’s grasp.