Albuquerque City Council Passes Resolution in Support of Medical Aid in Dying

Unanimous Vote to Endorse End-of-Life Options Legislation in New Mexico
May 8, 2018

Maria and Jorge Otero wait as Albuquerque City Council members decide whether to vote on a resolution to support medical aid-in-dying legislation in New Mexico.

Compassion & Choices commended the Albuquerque City Council for voting unanimously (9-0) on a bipartisan resolution in support of medical aid-in-dying legislation in New Mexico.

The vote makes Albuquerque the first jurisdiction in New Mexico to endorse medical aid in dying, a medical practice which gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to peacefully end unbearable suffering. The resolution will be transmitted to New Mexico State legislators.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilors Isaac Benton and Diane Gibson. “Having been part of a loved one’s choice of California’s end of life option, I saw firsthand the immeasurable, loving human closure it provided him and our family. This is compassionate and humane policy,” said Councilor Benton.

Community supporters showed up in force and gave testimony on the positive impact the future legislation could have on New Mexicans.

Maria D. Otero, co-founder of Nuestra Salud, a community-based organization whose mission is to reduce health disparities affecting Hispanic communities in New Mexico through research, training and outreach, spoke on her father-in-law, Pablo, a devout Catholic who died two months ago from a very aggressive cancer that spread to his bones.

“Pablo did not have a choice and he suffered horribly before his death,” she said. “I understand this end-of-life care option may not be for everyone but as a Catholic who respects other people’s faiths, I believe it is not for me to judge someone else. Until one walks in another person’s shoes, it’s not for anyone to stand in the way of this compassionate option being available for someone else.”

If the End of Life Options Act  is enacted into law, it would make New Mexico the 9th  jurisdiction in the nation to authorize medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option. Oregon, where medical aid in dying has been authorized for two decades (since 1997), has been joined since then by Washington (2008), Montana (2009), Vermont (2013, California (2015), Colorado (2016), Washington, D.C. (2017) and Hawaiʻi (2018).

In January 2014, New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court issued a landmark decision – that terminally ill, mentally competent patients have a fundamental right to medical aid in dying under the New Mexico State Constitution. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals reversed this ruling in August 2015 in a 2-1 split decision. Upon further appeal, in late June 2016 the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled against recognizing a constitutional right to this end-of-life option, and indicated that this matter should be considered and decided by the New Mexico Legislature.

In the fall of 2016, the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Coalition was established to advocate for enactment of such legislation. The Coalition identified bill sponsors for both the House and Senate, drafted medical aid-in-dying legislation and mounted a full campaign during the 2017 legislative session. The bill had one successful hearing in the House and two in the Senate. Despite the monumental efforts of advocates and health professionals from across the state, the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Act failed to pass. Following an hour-long debate by the full Senate, SB 252 was narrowly defeated 22-20. The bill will be presented again in the 2019 legislative session.

The New Mexico End-of-Life Options Act will be closely modeled after medical aid-in-dying legislation in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Montana and Washington D.C. The Act will provide a compassionate choice for terminally ill people who are suffering from an incurable illness or condition. The legislation will include some of the same important protections that have worked in Oregon for over 20 years.

Compassion & Choices
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