New Mexico Governor Signs Historic Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill into Law

State Becomes 11th Jurisdiction to Allow Peaceful End-of-Life Care Option
April 8, 2021

New Mexicans with terminal diseases and family members whose loved ones needlessly died in agony applauded Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham as they watched her sign the historic and bipartisan Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act (HB 47) into law today. New Mexico will become the 10th state and 11th jurisdiction to allow medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally capable adults when the law goes into effect on June 18.

From left: Compassion & Choices Action Network National Director of Advocacy Elizabeth Armijo, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Compassion & Choices Action Network New Mexico Organizer Jill VonOsten react to Gov. Lujan Grisham's signing of the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act during an April 8 ceremony held via Zoom.

From left: Compassion & Choices Action Network National Director of Advocacy Elizabeth Armijo, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Compassion & Choices Action Network New Mexico Organizer Jill VonOsten react to Gov. Lujan Grisham’s signing of the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act during an April 8 ceremony held via Zoom.

“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 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.”

“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.”

Prior to the bill’s introduction in the legislature, the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Coalition, Compassion & Choices and the 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 and so much more.

“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.”

Jorge Otero, a software engineer from Albuquerque, thanked lawmakers for taking action to honor his father’s painful death from cancer.

“My father’s suffering was not in vain,” he said. “His story helped to mark the importance of passing this compassionate legislation so other New Mexicans are not forced to suffer the way he did.”

The New Mexico End-of-Life Options Act includes key provisions for medical aid-in-dying law that ensures eligible patients will be able to access the law:

  • Allows advanced practice registered nurses and physicians 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 health care provider objects to participating medical aid in dying that they must inform the individual and refer the individual to either a health care provider who is able and willing to carry out the individual’s request or to another individual or entity to assist the requesting individual in seeking medical aid in dying.

The most recent national Gallup poll, conducted in May 2020 just 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.

“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,” added Armijo. “The collective efforts of our community was overwhelming.”

It has been 27 years since Oregon became the first state to enact a medical aid-in-dying law in 1994. Collectively, there are 27 years of combined evidence and cumulative data on medical aid in dying, which is authorized in 10 other jurisdictions besides New Mexico: California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C. Currently, more than one 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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