In a Jan. 16 Journal op-ed piece, “Democracy dies in darkness …,” three of our Republican colleagues in the New Mexico House of Representatives expressed some of their policy concerns with the Democratic agenda and, in the process, made a gross misstatement about the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act.
House Bill 47 is a bill that a majority of New Mexicans support as part of the right to self-determination regarding health care decisions for terminally ill patients at the end of life.
The End of Life Options Act will authorize medical aid in dying so New Mexico will join nine other states and the District of Columbia in offering dying patients who reside in New Mexico the opportunity for a peaceful death if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable.
In every one of those states, opponents of death with dignity made the same tired and unsubstantiated arguments about end-of-life choices. Let us tell you the facts.
This law requires that the dying patient – once they receive a diagnosis of likely death within six months, the same standard used for hospice care – may initiate for themselves the process outlined in our law.
Each of the safeguards contained in the law requires that the patient be in control and making their own decisions. These steps include:
• The patient must make a clear, written request for medical aid in dying that must be witnessed by at least one person who is not an heir or family member.
• The patient must be informed of all options, including hospice and palliative care.
• A second opinion is required to confirm the six-month prognosis, capacity to make the decision and the ability to self-administer the medication.
• A mental health evaluation is required if their health care provider believes the patient is suffering from depression or other condition causing impaired judgment.
• And the patient must self-administer the medication.
Far from a law that allows doctors to make these decisions, HB 47 places the patient firmly in control of their own end-of-life decisions. Far from devaluing life, this law offers the right for dying patients to choose how to live the last days of their lives.
For well over two decades now, as this law has been implemented in Oregon and other states, there has never been a case of fraud, coercion or misdeeds under these laws. Instead, dying patients who choose this option will most likely self-administer the medication at home, surrounded by family and friends.
The data from more than 40 years of cumulative experience shows that medical aid in dying is a safe and effective policy that not only benefits the very few who utilize it, but improves the entire end-of-life care system with increased advance care planning, earlier palliative care and earlier hospice.
Medical aid in dying offers peace of mind and a measure of control at the end of life that allows many people to live fully through serious illness, knowing they will not need to suffer beyond what they can bear.
For more information about medical aid in dying, visit https://endoflifeoptionsnm.org.