On April 8, 2021, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed HB 47, the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act, into law. The act, named for a New Mexico judge who advocated for legalized assisted suicide before her death from cancer in 2018, will allow suicide by lethal medication for any patient given six months or less to live. The law is set to take effect on June 18.
According to the act, a terminal diagnosis must be agreed on by two “health care professionals” and the patient has to pass a mental competency screening in order for assisted suicide to be requested. “Health care professionals” may include physician assistants and nurses. Following this, there is a 48-hour waiting period until the patient takes the lethal drugs.
Amendments were added to ensure that life insurance will not be allowed to be collected on the person who chooses assisted suicide, and to strike out a provision that would have given broad civil liability protection to medical workers who take part in assisted suicides.
One concern of the law’s opponents is that those with disabilities or patients who historically have less access to quality health care will be targeted for assisted suicide. The amendments “weakened this bill; but legalized assisted suicide in any form will only make it even harder for people with disabilities, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged to obtain quality medical care,” said Matt Vallière, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund.
Rather than receive either palliative care or good quality health care to treat their conditions, patients who are considered “terminal” would be offered assisted suicide by health insurance companies as a cost-savings measure. This is already taking place elsewhere.
A second concern is that patients will be considered terminal when in reality, they could live much longer than doctors predicted or they could fully recover but have refused treatment. Jeannette Hall was 55 when doctors said she had less than a year to live due to inoperable colon cancer. She refused treatment and sought assisted suicide, which she had access to in her home state of Oregon. However, her doctor opposed assisted suicide and encouraged her accept cancer treatment instead. Hall has now been cancer-free for 20 years.
Additionally, research has shown that 72% of those who “wish to die” actually change their minds. According to scientists at The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, older people who wish to die actually suffer from depression and loneliness, and when they overcome those feelings, they no longer want to die. The true motivation for assisted suicide is most often not a wish to control the time and manner of death, but fear of being a burden to loved ones.
“The assisted suicide bill is set to be the worst in the nation, making it a requirement that all patients in hospice care be offered assisted suicide as an option,” said Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe on March 3. “This as we struggle to dissuade our young people from taking their lives when they are struggling with depression and despondency.”
With the passing of the bill, New Mexico has become the ninth state (along with Washington D.C.) to legalize assisted suicide.
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