By ANITA BARELA
The discussion of the New Mexico Cannabis Law has overshadowed other State Bills enacted in 2021. “Death with dignity” is now legal in the state of New Mexico.
The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act went into effect June 18, 2021 and HB 47 makes New Mexico the 10th U.S. jurisdiction to enact a “death with dignity” law. It also is known as physician-aid-in-dying and 10 states allow terminally ill patients the right to die without suffering with unmanageable pain in their final days or weeks.
Terminally ill patients who seek aid in dying aren’t necessarily concerned about pain, research shows that those who have used these laws are concerned more about controlling how they leave this world rather than controlling their pain. Doctors who have assisted terminally ill patients in their final hours say it’s almost never about pain, it’s about dignity and control.
Reading the statistics gathered by Oregon Death With Dignity Act: 2015 Data Summary and Washington State Department of Health 2015 Death with Dignity Act Report, of the 991 Oregon patients who used their right to die with dignity, only 25 percent stated pain or inadequate pain control was the reason they chose that option. In Washington, 36 percent of 917 patients who chose Death with Dignity were concerned about pain, records show.
However, 90 percent of patients in both states listed concern for the loss of autonomy as the reason for their choice. Another major reason given by patients in both states was that they didn’t want to burden their loved ones in their final days with their end of life care.
In New Mexico, HB 47, the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong was introduced Jan. 7, 2021, and referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee Jan. 19, 2021. Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe city councils have approved resolutions supporting aid-in-dying legislation.
Several organizations endorse the aid-in-dying legislation: ACLU of New Mexico, Equality New Mexico, Health Action New Mexico, National Association of Social Workers, NAACP Albuquerque, New Mexico Public Health Association, Nuestra Salud New Mexico and Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico.
Greater Albuquerque Medical Association, New Mexico Association for Home & Hospice Care and New Mexico Medical Society adopted a position of “engaged neutrality” regarding medical aid in dying in New Mexico.
Death with dignity legislation succeeded in three legislative committees in December 2018 and in January and February of 2019.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee heard SB 153 (identical to HB 90 Substitute) Feb. 26, 2019, and passed it 4 to 3, moving it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Death with dignity” bills were previously considered in the New Mexico state legislature back in 2017, 2014, 2009 and 1995.