N.M. Dems Push Assisted Suicide PlanMarch 21, 2017 |
by Russell Contreras, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democrats are pushing a proposal that would allow terminally ill patients in New Mexico to end their lives with help from doctors.
The measure — opposed by the Catholic Church and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez — would prevent New Mexico doctors from facing prosecution in such cases.
In June, the New Mexico Supreme Court refused to overturn the state’s existing assisted suicide law, meaning that aiding such deaths remains a fourth-degree felony.
The proposal to change the law appears to have support among Democrats who control both chambers. The bill cleared its first test in the state Senate March 3 and a competing version was moving through the House.
The Democratic-controlled Senate Public Affairs Committee voted to move the bill that would prevent New Mexico doctors from facing prosecution for helping terminally ill patients end their lives.
Here are some things to know:
Five years ago, a Santa Fe woman with advanced cancer filed a lawsuit supported by the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico arguing that physician-assisted suicide was a constitutional right. It said doctors should be free to prescribe drugs to patients to humanely end some lives.
ACLU lawyers argued that helping terminally ill patients “humanely” end their lives was a foreign concept when the law was passed in the early 1960s.
In a 5-0 opinion in June, the state’s high court overturned a previous district court decision that doctors could not be prosecuted under the existing law.
“If we were to recognize an absolute, fundamental right to physician aid in dying, constitutional questions would abound regarding legislation that defined terminal illness or provided for protective procedures to assure that a patient was making an informed and independent decision,” Justice Edward Chavez wrote for the court.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said members object to assisted suicides on moral grounds and feel it would unfairly affect Latinos and Native Americans in one of the nation’s poorest states.
“Minorities would be coached and guilted into ending their own lives instead of going through expensive treatment,” Sanchez said. “Instead, we should be focusing on universal health care and better hospice care.”
Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for Martinez, said the governor has opposed similar legislation.
Oregon passed the first right-to-die law in the nation in 1998, followed by Washington state, Vermont, California and Colorado.
Montana’s state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors could use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against any criminal charges.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a “Death with Dignity” bill in January allowing patients with six months or less to live to request lethal drugs. A U.S. House committee voted to invalidate the law and it’s unclear if the Senate would take up the resolution.