In a legislative session full of contentious proposals from more progressive lawmakers — such as legalizing cannabis and repealing a decades-old abortion ban — perhaps none drew as much controversy as one that would give terminally ill patients the right to seek a doctor’s aid in dying.

On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law House Bill 47, known as the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act, which gives certain patients the right to ask a physician to prescribe drugs to end their suffering.

The legislation is named after a New Mexico judge who died of cancer in 2018 after lobbying legislators for years to approve a so-called right-to-die bill.

“It’s important for all patients to know all of their options at the end of life,” said Elizabeth Armijo, advocacy director of Compassion and Choices, a national nonprofit.

“And being able to have the option of medical aid in dying will bring tremendous relief to people who may not be able to bear their suffering any longer,” Armijo added.

She and other proponents say the new law will give patients facing a painful death more control and an option to die with dignity.

Opponents argue, however, the law could lead to abuse of elderly relatives or prompt people to take their own lives because they fear their terminal illness has made them a burden on loved ones.

Matt Vallière, executive director of the Patients Rights Action Fund, wrote in an email Thursday, “At a time when legislators should be laser-focused on expanding access to quality medical care and treatment options for all New Mexicans, it’s outrageous that they have instead chosen to pass a discriminatory bill aimed at making death more accessible for those with life-threatening disabilities.”

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, the main sponsor of the bill, said Whitefield would have been “greatly relieved, satisfied, happy” to know her effort finally met success.

Armstrong’s daughter Erin, who is in her 40s, spoke in favor of the bill before a legislative committee earlier this year. She told the lawmakers she has been fighting a 20-year battle with cancer.

While she “desperately” wants to keep living, she said, she is aware she likely will not survive the disease.

Armstrong said her daughter now has a “great relief that she doesn’t have to worry about being in agony when the time comes.”

The legislation will not force physicians, pharmacists or other health care professionals to provide life-ending drugs.

As the law is written, a terminally ill patient’s doctor can prescribe the drugs only after obtaining a second medical opinion and ensuring the patient is mentally and emotionally fit to make a choice about ending their life.

New Mexico is now the 10th state in the nation to enact an aid-in-dying bill. Washington, D.C., has a similar law.

Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassionate Choices Action Network, said New Mexico’s bill is different from others because it allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well as physicians, to prescribe the life-ending drugs.

While most states’ aid-in-dying laws include a 15-day waiting period between the time the patient receives approval for the drugs and when they can obtain the them, New Mexico’s waiting period is 48 hours.

Based on data her organization has collected, Callinan said up to half of patients who have sought the life-ending prescription have died during the 15-day waiting period — which she calls a “suffering period.”

Callinan said her group’s data shows about 4,300 patients have chosen to pursue medical aid in dying.

The law goes into effect June 18, 90 days after the end of this year’s regular legislative session.

Lujan Grisham signed 10 bills into law Thursday, including the following:

  • House Bill 20 ensures employees of private businesses accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Unlike most laws that go into effect within 90 days of this year’s regular legislative session, this one takes effect July 1, 2022. The delay is to give businesses more time to prepare.
  • House Bill 112 requires hospitals providing indigent care to treat all noncitizens equally, regardless of their immigration status.
  • House Bill 234 requires the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council Office of Guardianship to recruit and train volunteer court visitors and establishes a court visitor pilot program managed by the judiciary to monitor guardianship cases.
  • House Bill 266 amends the School Personnel Act to create a Level 1 alternative teaching license for people who teach students with disabilities. The bill requires candidates to take part in a 15-week apprenticeship under a Level 2-A or 3-A special-education teacher while taking related college coursework.
  • House Bill 331 requires the calculation for school transportation funds for fiscal year 2023 to be based on fiscal year 2020 transportation data and fiscal year 2019 transportation expenditure data.
  • Senate Bill 8 amends sections of state law to allow state and local governments to adopt certain environmental regulations more stringent than federal regulations.
  • Senate Bill 40 requires all secondary schools to provide extended learning programs and all elementary schools to provide K-5 Plus or extended learning programs in the next school year unless in-person instruction is prohibited by executive order.
  • Senate Bill 49 amends the Local Economic Development Act in several ways, including changing the definition of retail business, removing the noncompete clause for retail businesses and expanding opportunities for a municipality to enter into a project participation agreement with the Department of Economic Development.
  • Senate Bill 317 amends the Health Care Purchasing Act and the Insurance Code to prohibit the imposition of cost sharing by health insurers on behavioral health services. It also incorporates the provisions of House Bill 122 to establish a Health Care Affordability Fund, which would lower costs of individual health insurance plans offered through the state’s network, by raising the premium surtax insurance providers pay.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(12) comments

Amy Grahams

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Amy Grahams

At the end of the full treatment course, the disease is totally under control. No case of dementia, hallucination, weakness, muscle pain or tremors. family doctor started me on Mayaka Natural Clinic Parkinson's Disease Herbal mixture, 2 months into treatment I improved dramatically. At the end of the full treatment course, the disease is totally under control. No case of dementia, hallucination, weakness, muscle pain or tremors. visit mayakanaturalclinic . c o m

Jarratt Applewhite

Yesterday was a glorious culmination of a journey that began over a decade ago. Enacting this legislation required courage, tenacity and true leadership. It never would gotten across the finish line without amazing coalition building and the commitment of many people. Our legislators were stalwart. It's sweet to see that even in these deeply troubling times, our democracy is occasionally capable of rising to the occasion.

Lucille Armijo

Bravo to the Governor!

Prince Michael Jauregui

Be clear: I am not a Democrat, nor a Republican. Neither, a "Conservative" nor "Liberal". If you must label me? I am a Christian and an American - only in that precise order. Overstand, -if you will- I cannot in good conscience subscribe to a wholly-corrupted, utterly ineffective and nationally terminal political charade.

Without question, in it's purest form, Democracy is the most decent and rightful form of governance. Yet, Today, a once-powerful and Godly-blessed nation rabidly races towards it's own impending and inevitable demise. Cause-of-Death? Self-inflicted fools.

As I've taught for decades: Capitalism must always act as fuel for Democracy. Never, the reverse - which has been precisely the case for at-least the last 100 years.

Today, the same shamelessly false-god and agenda serving party that has relentlessly

promoted the slaughtered of nearly 70-million, innocent unborn children, public prayer, Same-Sex "Marriage", now advocates, de facto suicide. In New Mexico, a state already immersed in deadly plagues, the political-party puppet "Governor" continues

to serve, above all her party.

Thus, for the current Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the U.S. "Government", -all all their state and local allies nationwide- Final Notice, is hereby served:

"They pour out arrogant words; all workers of iniquity boast. They crush Your people, O LORD; they oppress Your heritage. They kill the widow and the foreigner; They murder the fatherless. They say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed. Take notice, O senseless among the people! O fools, when will you be wise? He who affixed the ear, can He not hear? He who formed the eye, can He not see? He who admonishes the nations, does He not discipline? He who teaches man, does He lack knowledge?The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile." Psalm 94;4-11

zach miller

maybe you shouldn't baselessly label others if you are so concerned with it happening to you. But I guess being a hypocrite is a label you enjoy.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Your claim that I "..baselessly label others..", is baseless. While, you label me "a hypocrite"? How baseless AND hypocritical, Mr. Miller.

Have a great weekend, sir - whether you like it or not!

Daniel Mathews

Let’s discuss, you don’t want to participate in assisted death, don’t take the tablets. Don’t approve of same sex marriage; don’t marry a member of the same sex. Worried about the unborn? Why not advocate for those children already born; you know, make sure they have food, adequate shelter, healthcare and a decent education. Instead of worrying about what other people are doing, go look at your own heart.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Daniel, -ironically- I learned many, many year-ago, before you can be truthful with others, you must be truthful with yourself. As I've taught for years: Truth, most often, is quite disturbing. You have no problem with the most innocent of Almighty God's creations being dissected alive and their organs harvested for profit. You, have no issue with school-children being taught that whole LGBQT agenda is "good" and "healthy".

Nor, do you see anything wrong with "Government" sanctioned de facto suicide. Yet, you expect anyone to believe -including yourself- that you have a deep concern for children that were not slaughtered in their mother's womb? Perhaps, you need to look at your own heart - good luck with THAT, Daniel.

Be not further deceived: The horrific slaughter of nearly 70-million unborn shall not go answered. Not unlike the nearly 70 -mostly Women and Children- burned alive during the Waco Massacre. Nor, The Children of "Trinity Site", issued a death sentence by their own wicked country. Nor, little Sammy Weaver and his mother....and countless others.

The Book of Daniel 12:1 is Here. Feds, Fascists, Frauds, Pharaohs and ALL allies have been served Final Notice - Psalm 149:Seven-9 is Now.

Carolyn DM

Bravo!! At last people can die with dignity! This should have happened long ago!

B. Rosen

The humane thing to do.

John Lonergan

Bravo to the legislature and governor for passing this law. My father elected assisted suicide in California two years ago in late stages of Parkinson's. It was a brave, but correct decision. If I or any of my family elects this in NM, it is now a welcome option.

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