New Mexico House Passes First Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill Ever

Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act Now Goes to the Senate
February 20, 2021

Compassion & Choices Action Network praised the New Mexico House of Representatives for passing a bill that would allow terminally ill, mentally capable adults the option to obtain prescription medication they could take to die peacefully and end unbearable suffering. 

The House approved this compassionate legislation, the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act (HB 47), by a vote of 39-27. The bill now moves to the Senate chamber.

This is the first time the full House of Representatives has held a floor vote on a medical aid-in-dying bill. In 2019, the legislation cleared the House Health & Human Services Committee, House Judiciary Committee and Senate Public Affairs Committee, but neither the full House nor the Senate heard it.

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, the primary sponsor of HB 47, who has worked for years to make medical aid in dying an option for terminally ill New Mexicans, opened up the floor debate by speaking about the death of her father-in-law, who suffered excruciating pain before his death from cancer. She also recalled the death of Patty Jennings, wife of former New Mexico Senator Tim Jennings, who died in 2009 of stage 4 breast cancer that spread to her brain. 

She held back tears as she spoke of her daughter Erin, who was first diagnosed with childhood-onset metastatic thyroid cancer 20 years ago. She said the legislation has become more personal to her since her daughter’s aggressive cancer returned in 2019, spreading to her bones, lungs, liver and brain.  

“My daughter is fighting very hard to live, just like Patty,” said Rep. Armstrong. “We don’t know how long she has to live… People that I talk to throughout the state don’t want to die in pain. They want to gather their friends, family and take medication to go to sleep and peacefully pass away. I dread that day that my daughter dies but I dread the suffering even more.”

The COVID-19 pandemic did not deter New Mexicans throughout the state from participating in the virtual hearings before the House of Representatives this month. One-by-one, they shared emotionally painful stories about their terminally ill loved ones’ suffering before their deaths. 

“The House of Representatives’ approval of this compassionate legislation is a major milestone for terminally ill New Mexicans who desperately need the Legislature to pass this law now before it’s too late for them,” said Elizabeth Armijo, national advocacy director for Compassion & Choices Action Network. “We are hopeful the Senate will make passing the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act a top priority before the session ends March 20.”

The following organizations have endorsed the New Mexico medical aid-in-dying bill: ACLU of New Mexico, Equality New Mexico, Health Action New Mexico, New Mexico Nurse Practitioner Council, National Association of Social Workers New Mexico, NAACP Albuquerque, New Mexico Psychological Association, New Mexico Public Health Association, Nuestra Salud New Mexico, and Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. The following state organizations have dropped their opposition to it: New Mexico Association for Home & Hospice Care (NMAHHC), Greater Albuquerque Medical Association (GAMA), and New Mexico Medical Society (NMMS).

While there have been no New Mexico polls on medical aid in dying since 2012, the most recent national Gallup poll, conducted in May 2020, a few months after COVID-19 reached the pandemic level, shows 74% of Americans support medical aid in dying, a 6-point jump from the 68% support in Gallup’s pre-pandemic poll in May 2019 (see question 15 on page 2).  

Collectively, there are 22 years of experience with medical aid in dying in Oregon since it became the first state to enact such a law, and collectively 40+ years of combined evidence and cumulative data with medical aid in dying authorized in the nine other jurisdictions. Now, more than one out in every five Americans (22%) have access to this compassionate end-of-life care option.

Compassion & Choices is comprised of two organizations that improve care and expand options at life’s end: Compassion & Choices (501(c)(3)) educates, empowers, defends, and advocates; the Compassion & Choices Action Network (501(c)(4)) focuses exclusively on legislation, ballot campaigns, and limited electoral work. 

Paid for by Compassion & Choices Action Network.

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