One of this legislative session’s most controversial bills has been tabled for the 2019 legislative session.
House Bill 90 would have created measures permitting medical aid in dying for terminally ill but mentally competent patients who request such help.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, would have allowed doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to people who want to end their suffering and take their own lives.
Though the bill, known as the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act, made it through two House committees this year, it was quietly tabled in the House of Representatives in late February.
On Tuesday, Armstrong wrote in an email that the bill was tabled “at my request.”
“At the time we are just a few votes shy to pass the bill,” she said.
“What we do have, though, is the drive and the commitment to keep building momentum, to keep reaching out to legislators on both sides of the aisle and to keep educating people about medical aid-in-dying. … something like this takes time.”
The bill is named after the late Judge Elizabeth Whitefield, who died of cancer last summer and who lobbied legislators for years to approve a “right-to-die” bill to help those who knew they were going to die and wanted to end their suffering with dignity.
But opponents cite moral and religious objections and argue the bill, if it became law, could lead to potential abuse.
Current law makes it a felony for a physician to assist a patient in ending his or her life. Though advocates for a “right-to-die” bill petitioned the courts to give doctors the ability to help terminal patients die some years ago, in 2014 the Supreme Court ruled medical aid in dying is not a constitutional right.
But if HB 90 had become law, a patient could ask a medical provider to prescribe drugs to end his or her own life. That medical professional would have to confirm the patient has a terminal illness and the mental capacity to request medical aid in dying.
Two witnesses would have to sign the request. The medical professional would be required to talk about potential alternatives, such as hospice care, with the patient. The patient also would have to get a second opinion and agree to a 48-hour waiting period before the prescription could be filled.
The patient would have to administer the drugs.
In addition, due to an amendment to the bill, the law would only apply to patients who had six months or less to live.
Armstrong, who tried to pass similar legislation in 2017, is not giving up on the issue.
“New Mexicans value family and respect individual choices,” she wrote. “Giving terminally ill, mentally capable adults the option to request, receive and self-administer medication to control the manner of death, when death is inevitable, reflects those values.”
Efforts to reach Stefanics, who was out sick Tuesday, were unsuccessful.