New Mexico Bill Adds Telemedicine to Assisted Suicide Debate
Proposed legislation in New Mexico would enable qualified healthcare providers to use telemedicine to assess a patient’s ability to request physician-assisted suicide.
The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act (HB 90), introduced on Dec. 20 by State Rep. Deborah Armstrong, would enable qualifying healthcare providers to use telehealth to determine whether a patient is capable of requesting help in dying. This would include physicians examining the patient and mental health professionals assessing the patient’s state of mind.
Like most states, current law in New Mexico makes it a felony for any physician assisting a patient in suicide. Only Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii and the District of Columbia permit physician-assisted suicide; in Montana it’s not legislated, but it is allowed by a court ruling.
The proposed legislation sets in place a strict protocol for assisted suicide, including a 48-hour waiting period after a prescription for end-of-life drugs has been filled out. It also includes drafts of a letter of consent for the patient and the provider, allows providers to refuse to take part in the process, mandates that all signed wills, contracts and life insurance policies not be affected by the patient’s decision to die, and requires that the cause of death be listed as the patient’s “underlying terminal illness.”
As expected, not everyone is in favor of the legislation.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, calls it “the most dangerous bill ever,” pointing out in a blog that it allows healthcare providers to assess a patient’s right to die through a virtual visit. In a separate article, hewarns that the bill would “allow suicide tourism and legalize assisted suicide in all 50 US States.”
The new bill injects telemedicine into a debate that has been waged in New Mexico for dozens of years.
In 1995 and again in 2009, so-called “death with dignity” bills were filed, but never passed. In 2014, New Mexico Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash ruled that physician-assisted dying was a right under the state Constitution, but that decision was overruled by an appeals court and the state Supreme Court, saying terminally ill patients can’t end their lives with help from physicians.
In 2017, Armstrong and fellow State Rep. Bill McCamley introduced HB 171, the End of Life Options Act, while State Senator Elizabeth Stefanics (D-Bernalillo) and four co-sponsors introduced a companion bill, SB 252. Both bills made it through their committees before the full state Senate shot down the final version by a 22-20 vote.
Proponents of the new legislation are expecting a different outcome this time around.
The state’s newly elected governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said during her campaign that she supports a person’s right to choose to die. And city councils in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces have signaled their support of the concept.
Alongside Armstrong’s new bill, Stefanics is expected to file a companion bill in the state Senate.