Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A local physician and a Christian doctors association filed a lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s medical aid-in-dying law this week, alleging it violates the First Amendment rights of doctors.
They are asking a federal judge to declare parts of the law unconstitutional.
The End-of-Life Options Act – passed in 2021 – allows terminally ill New Mexicans to seek a doctor’s help to end their life.
It includes a provision stating that no health care provider who objects as a matter of conscience can be required to participate “under any circumstance.”
The law also prohibits disciplining a provider for a refusal to participate.
But the lawsuit filed Wednesday contends those protections aren’t strong enough.
It takes aim at a section that says a provider who isn’t willing to carry out a patient’s end-of-life request must refer them to someone else who can help.
The suit also challenges a provision stating providers shall inform terminally ill patients of “all reasonable options.”
The plaintiffs in the 31-page complaint are Mark Lacy, a doctor who works with terminally ill patients in New Mexico, and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. Lacy worked in Albuquerque but is taking a job in Santa Fe, the suit said.
“New Mexico is unlawfully compelling physicians to speak a certain message about assisted suicide, even if they object for reasons of conscience or faith,” said Mark Lippelmann, attorney for the plaintiffs and senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, an advocacy group.
Jerri Mares, a spokeswoman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said their office is “reviewing the State’s interest in this important matter and we will respond in our court filing.”
Supporters of the legislation dispute that it provides for assisted suicide. Under the law, the patient must be terminally ill, expected to die within six months and able to self-administer the medicine to end their life.
About 120 patients have used the law this year – slightly more men than women, according to statistics recorded by the state of New Mexico.
Debate over the proposal was among the most emotional and intense for years at the Legislature, drawing terminally ill patients and their families to the Capitol.
The proposal is named after Elizabeth Whitefield, a retired judge who testified that she didn’t want her family to have to watch her die as she choked on her own fluids or otherwise died slowly in pain.
Lawmakers, however, didn’t pass the aid-in-dying law until 2021, about two and a half years after she died.