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Assisted-suicide bill introduced

SANTA FE – State lawmakers are considering whether to legalize medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

A proposal from Democratic Rep. Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque and Sen. Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe sets out assisted-suicide protocols that include authorization from two medical providers and a 48-hour waiting period once life-ending drugs have been prescribed.

It’s the first test of assisted suicide legislation since the election last year of a Democratic governor and a larger Democratic House majority. Current law that withstood a Supreme Court challenge in 2016 makes it a felony for a physician to assist a patient in ending his or her life.

Stefanics on Monday emphasized humanitarian aspects of the proposal to provide “end-of-life options” to reduce suffering.

“We have a lot of medical advances, but we also have some conditions that are extremely painful and horrible at the end of life,” she said.

The initiative’s opponents include local leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and an array of Republican legislators.

Republican Rep. Gregg Schmedes, a surgeon from Tijeras, said the legislation would not require that a medical professional be present when lethal drugs are administered and would open the door to potential abuses by predatory family heirs and others.

“It allows for the perfect crime,” he said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham voiced support during her campaign for ending the state’s prohibition on medically assisted suicide.

The legislation would create the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act,” named for a former state district judge who testified in favor of a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in 2017. That bill was defeated 22-20 vote in the state Senate. Whitefield died of cancer in August 2018.

Oregon passed the first right-to-die law in the nation, in 1998, followed by Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado and Hawaii. Washington, D.C., implemented its tatute in 2017.

Montana’s state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors could use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against any criminal charges.