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End of Life Options Bill Criticized for Being Suicide Assistance

person on hospital bed

In December of 2018, State Representative Deborah Armstrong of New Mexico pre-filed ‘HB 90’, the Elizabeth Whitfield End of Life Options Act. Being introduced in January of 2019, we will dig deeper into what this bill means, along with how others are interpreting it.

The Elizabeth Whitfield End of Life Options Act gives patients with terminal illnesses the option to end their own life. Those in support of the bill call it dying with dignity, and others claim it to be suicidal. The bill will allow the following persons to aid in a patient’s death:

  • A physician licensed pursuant to the Medical Practice Act;
  • An osteopathic physician licensed pursuant to the Osteopathic Medicine Act;
  • A nurse licensed in advanced practice pursuant to the Nursing Practice Act; or
  • A physician assistant licensed pursuant to .211127.5 the Physician Assistant Act or the Osteopathic Medicine Act;

Those that are not in favor of the bill are trying to convince others that not all of the above professionals are educated enough to support a patient in such a life-changing endeavor. People are also concerned with the bill’s definition of terminal illness – a disease or condition that is incurable and irreversible and that, in accordance with reasonable medical judgment, will result in death within the foreseeable future. This umbrellas a wide-scope of conditions. It also may overlook miracle cases where people are told they have a few months to live and go on to live for another decade.

There isn’t a set wait time that a patient must endure before their decision may be honored, but there is a 48 hours window between the patient’s request and the practitioner’s ability to write the prescription. The patients must be read their full rights to alternative options, and there must also be a second opinion taken. However, and this is a big one, the consulting physician (acting as the second opinion) never has to meet the patient. They are only required to at least use telemedicine as a means of assessment. As stated in the bill:

DECLARATION OF WITNESSES:  We declare that the person signing this request: affirmed that the individual is:…(2) eligible to receive medical aid in dying after the prescribing health care provider has referred the individual to a consulting health care provider and the consulting health care provider has: (a) examined the individual, in person or using telemedicine;

The bill also protects lethal prescribers from future malpractice cases. If they act in ‘good faith’, they may not be sued for misdiagnosis or neglect in the future if the patient is found to have not had a terminal illness.

No matter what your take on the bill is, it’s clear that there are some gaps in clarity. The grey areas on medical malpractice in the bill are also alarming. If you or a loved one in the state of New Mexico are dealing with a terminal illness and/or the Elizabeth Whitfield End of Life Options Act, please do not hesitate to give our offices a call. We will gladly assist your family with any legal guidance necessary. Putting families first, trust no one but Buckingham & Vega with your case.

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