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Albuquerque Journal Column: Lawmakers consider end-of-life options bill

An excerpt from the Albuquerque Journal column, “Lawmakers consider end-of-life options bill,” by Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer Joline Gutierrez Krueger, published February 17, 2021:

“One by one, they told stories of the painful ways in which loved ones died, the butchery of it all, the screaming, the indignity, the helplessness of final days, the relief that only came through ugly death.

Saturday, as the chill of a polar vortex descended outside, the state House Judiciary Committee took testimony via Zoom on a bill that if passed could allow terminally ill patients to die in a way less cold, less cruel.

When it was over, the committee voted 7-3 to send House Bill 47 to the floor. Then it’s the Senate’s turn to do what it will with the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signaled she will sign.

It’s the third time the bill, modeled after similar laws in other states, has come before the Legislature, including 2017 when Whitefield, her voice raspy between gasps from a trach tube, testified about the dire need to give those like her facing a painful, certain death from a terminal illness the legal, physician-approved option to end their lives in peace, with a modicum of dignity and at a time of their choosing…

Paul Thorne, Whitefield’s husband of nearly 33 years, had been with her through that hell, through all five cancers over 12 years to that last night when he struggled to suck out the fluids that were asphyxiating her from the hole in her neck.

‘She was so scared and so frightened,’ Thorne said as we talked this week, the anger still real over how after 2½ years since her death the bill has yet to be passed… Earlier, she had come up with a solution: She wanted Thorne to stay with neighbors while she took enough medication to overdose and die. If he wasn’t there, he couldn’t be prosecuted, she told him.

But he refused. He wouldn’t let her die alone.

‘There should have been an option like the one in this bill,’ he said. ‘She didn’t want to die, but she also didn’t want anybody to die in such pain, alone.'”