New Mexico Authorizes Medical Aid in Dying
The governor’s signature makes New Mexico the 11th jurisdiction to pass such a law.
by Sonja Aliesch
April 22, 2021
Compassion & Choices, the Compassion & Choices Action Network and the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Coalition celebrated Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signing of the historic and bipartisan Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act (HB 47) into law on April 8. New Mexico will become the 10th state and 11th jurisdiction to allow medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults when the law goes into effect on June 18.
“A lot of hard work and a lot of tears have gone into passing the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act,” said bill sponsor Representative Debbie Armstrong. “But all of that is worth it today knowing that terminally ill, mentally competent New Mexicans now have the option to choose medical aid in dying. By signing HB 47, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is empowering people at the end of life to be able to make their own, personal decisions about death and dying.”
“This law is a momentous achievement for terminally ill New Mexicans who have fought until their last breaths to expand and improve end-of-life care options in New Mexico,” said Kim Callinan, Compassion & Choices Action Network president and CEO. “It also marks a historic moment for the movement: Lawmakers in New Mexico considered over 50 combined years of evidence and data across the authorized states, and fashioned an innovative bill that will allow more eligible patients the ability to access the law while still protecting vulnerable populations.”
Prior to the bill’s introduction in the Legislature, the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Coalition, Compassion & Choices and Compassion & Choices Action Network advocates worked marathon hours to pass three municipal resolutions in support of medical aid in dying. They secured endorsements from local organizations, presented to medical groups and the public, and identified storytellers to put a human face on the issue.
“During legislative hearings, New Mexicans shared emotionally painful stories about their terminally ill loved ones’ suffering before their deaths,” said Elizabeth Armijo, national advocacy director for Compassion & Choices Action Network. “Other New Mexicans spent their last days unsure of whether they would be able to access this option they have fought so hard to secure. Their courage and resolve are the unbreakable pillars of this campaign.”
Elizabeth Whitefield, a long-time Albuquerque family law judge and attorney for whom the law is named, did not live long enough to testify on behalf of the bill in 2019. She died painfully in 2018, just like she feared.
“She was so scared and so frightened,” said Paul Thorne, her husband of 33 years. “Her eyes were big as saucers, her skinny little arms with all those bruises from medication reaching to me. She kept saying, ‘Paul, help me, help me.’”
Glenn Buckland of Rio Rancho is another bill advocate who died just 16 days before the signing of the bill into law from plasma cell leukemia. During his last testimony before the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on March 1, he told legislators that he stopped all medical treatment after 23 months of chemotherapy. His last words during the hearing were: “Please vote for HB 47.”
The New Mexico End-of-Life Options Act includes landmark provisions that represent a clear path to increasing access to aid in dying:
- Allows advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to support their patients by serving as either the prescribing or consulting clinician.
- Streamlines the waiting period for receiving aid-in-dying medication to 48 hours and provides the prescribing provider with the ability to waive the waiting period if a person is likely to die before the waiting period expires.
- Clarifies that if a healthcare provider objects to participating in medical aid in dying that they must inform the patient and refer them to either a healthcare provider who is able and willing to carry out their request or to another individual or entity to assist.
“We are grateful Governor Lujan Grisham listened to the voices of our New Mexico community, volunteer advocates and storytellers over the past five years that led to this victory,” says Armijo. “The collective efforts of our community was overwhelming.”
Nevada also enjoyed a successful April, as the Assembly Health & Human Services Committee finished their work on the End of Life Options Act (AB 351), and it now advances to the Assembly Floor. The committee held a virtual hearing April 7 on the legislation authored by Assemblymember Edgar Flores, who opened by describing the painful end-of-life experience of a family member.
During the hearing, Nevadans statewide told their own stories about loved ones who suffered agonizing deaths because they did not have the option of medical aid in dying. Hanna Olivas, a 46-year-old Las Vegas mother of four living with a rare form of incurable blood cancer, submitted written testimony: “I was very disappointed when a similar bill that was introduced in Nevada ran out of time and did not move forward during the 2019 legislative session,” she stated. “This compassionate bill is more important to me than ever. I don’t have time to wait for another legislative session. I need my full range of end-of-life options now.”
“Terminally ill Nevadans are a step closer to the full range of end-of-life care options, including medical aid in dying,” said Sam DeWitt, Nevada Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices Action Network. “We are grateful to members of the Assembly Health & Human Services Committee for listening to the voices of the majority of Nevadans who support this compassionate and urgent bill that will allow terminally-ill Nevadans the option to die peacefully.”
Although we made fantastic progress this year in Connecticut, gaining historic bipartisan support in the Public Health Committee, the state’s end-of-life options bill was tabled in the Judiciary Committee on April 20. The extraordinary efforts of Compassion & Choices and our supporters on the ground did not go unnoticed, however, resulting in a rare commitment from both Public Health chairs that an aid-in-dying bill will be introduced again next year — and will be the top priority bill for them.
For updates on Compassion & Choices’ work nationwide, visit our state pages.