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'End-of-Life Options Act' Heads to New Mexico Senate

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Activist Dolores Huerta has joined the nonprofit Compassion & Choices in advocating for passage of the Elizabeth Whitefield 'End-of-Life Options Act' in the New Mexico Legislature. (Geralt/Pixabay)
Activist Dolores Huerta has joined the nonprofit Compassion & Choices in advocating for passage of the Elizabeth Whitefield 'End-of-Life Options Act' in the New Mexico Legislature. (Geralt/Pixabay)
 By Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM - Producer, Contact
March 1, 2021

SANTA FE, N.M. -- For the third time in five years, New Mexico lawmakers are considering legislation to allow a terminally ill patient to seek prescription medication from a healthcare provider, which they could use if they decide to end their own life due to unbearable suffering.

After passing in the House, the Senate will consider the "Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act," modeled after similar laws in other states.

Dolores Huerta, American labor leader and civil-rights activist, has joined the cause to get House Bill 47 passed.

The 90-year-old Huerta said mentally capable, terminally ill adults should be allowed to obtain the medication to die peacefully.

"The fact that there is an alternative, and that people can make a choice that they want to end their life in a graceful and a peaceful manner, with their loved ones around them, I think that is something that's very important," Huerta explained.

The New Mexico bill is named for Elizabeth Whitefield, an Albuquerque family law judge and attorney, who advocated for a version of the bill before dying in 2018 following an 11-year battle with cancer.

For the third time, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is co-sponsoring the bill. Armstrong has a 39-year-old daughter she said has battled cancer for 20 years and is running out of treatment options.

Armstrong said if passed, the state law would be very specific about which patients are eligible.

"They have to be terminal; they have to be mentally competent; they have to be able to self-administer," Armstrong outlined. "Two providers have to affirm that they're eligible on all counts."

The bill also protects all healthcare providers from civil and criminal consequences, and they can opt out of writing such prescriptions.

Huerta believes since the start of the pandemic, many more Americans are contemplating healthcare planning and end-of-life decisions.

"People don't often think about making a plan for the end of life," Huerta observed. "I know that if my mother would have had that choice, even though she was a very devout Catholic, that she would have taken it. You might even say that it's a civil right that people have."

In neighboring Colorado, a report on that state's End-of-Life Options Act, passed by voters in 2016, shows an uptick in participation, both by physicians and terminally ill patients.

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