by Sharon Niederman
NEW MEXICO — Joining nine other states, New Mexico now allows mentally healthy, terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to legally seek medical aid in dying to help them avoid significant pain and suffering at the end of their lives. They may now voluntarily self-administer legally prescribed medication to pass away peacefully and without pain.
The measure was first introduced in 1995 by Sen. Liz Stefanics, who was one of the sponsors of HB 47, which passed this session and was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “This measure is about compassion for the suffering,” said Sen. Stefanics. “Adults with terminal illnesses should have the freedom to choose the end-of-life options that are right for them.
Known as the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options bill, it was named for an honored judge who, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, became a strong advocate for the measure.
Just as people choose medical directives including the refusal of extreme treatments that will not change the outcome of their illness, they may now choose medication to spare themselves and their loved ones the agony of a prolonged demise.
Safeguards are in place to protect individuals seeking this choice from an ill-advised decision. They must, first of all, be found mentally capable by a mental health professional. Second, there is a 48 hour waiting period. Two clinicians must confirm the terminal diagnosis, and the prescribing provider must verify the patient is freely and voluntarily making the request. And no hospice or other facility is required to provide aid in dying, though they must inform patients of all their options.
Of interest to those in Colfax County and other more remote counties, the pool of medical personnel able to prescribe the medication includes medical and osteopathic doctors, advanced practice nurses and physicians assistants.
Standing in opposition to this bill is the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Freedom to kill is not a true freedom but a tyranny that reduces the human being into slavery. Scripture, in fact, clearly excludes every form of the kind of self-determination of human existence that is presupposed in the theory and practice of euthanasia.”