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Las Cruces City Council Unanimously Supports Medical Aid in Dying

Two of New Mexico’s most populous municipalities now endorse the legislation

Compassion & Choices commended the Las Cruces City Council for voting unanimously to approve a bipartisan resolution in support of medical aid-in-dying legislation in New Mexico.

The Las Cruces City Council voted to support a resolution asking New Mexico state legislators to authorize Medical Aid in Dying on Dec. 17, 2018.

Las Cruces is the third New Mexico jurisdiction to endorse medical aid in dying in recent months, and the second to do so with unanimous vote. Local lawmakers in two of New Mexico’s most populous municipalities — Albuquerque and Las Cruces — have now both voiced unanimous support for the legislation. These resolutions, including a majority vote of support by the Santa Fe City Council, will be transmitted to New Mexico State legislators.

Medical aid in dying is a medical practice in which a mentally capable, terminally ill adult with a prognosis of six months or fewer to live may request from their physician a prescription for a medication that they can take to peacefully die in their sleep. More than 40 years of combined experience across eight authorized jurisdictions has proven that these compassionate policies improve end-of-life care.

“This latest unanimous vote demonstrates the overwhelming support for this legislation by lawmakers and the general public across New Mexico,” said Elizabeth Armijo, Western Regional Campaign Outreach Manager for Compassion & Choices.

In January, state legislators will have another opportunity to authorize this compassionate end-of-life option which 80% of New Mexicans support.

Community supporters gave compelling testimony before the Las Cruces City Council on the positive impact the future legislation would have on terminally-ill New Mexicans. Among the supporters who testified was New Mexico State Representative-elect Micaela Lara Cadena, who is co-sponsoring the 2019 bill.

Representative-elect Cadena announced that the 2019 bill will be titled the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act, in honor of retired 2nd Judicial District Court Judge Elizabeth Whitefield, who was a strong proponent of medical aid-in-dying policy up until her death this past August.

“In New Mexico, we truly know that each of us has our own space to make our own moral decisions,” Rep-elect Cadena told councilors. “We can also hold room for other New Mexicans to make these type of decisions for themselves.”

If the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act is enacted into law, it would make New Mexico the 9th jurisdiction in the nation to authorize medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option. Oregon, where medical aid in dying has been authorized since 1997, has been joined in the past two decades by Washington (2008), Montana (2009), Vermont (2013), California (2015), Colorado (2016), Washington, D.C. (2017) and Hawaiʻi (2018).

Background
In January 2014, New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court issued a landmark decision — that terminally ill, mentally competent patients have a fundamental right to medical aid in dying under the New Mexico State Constitution. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals reversed this ruling in August 2015 in a 2-1 split decision. Upon further appeal, in late June 2016 the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled against recognizing a constitutional right to this end-of-life option, and indicated that this matter should be considered and decided by the New Mexico Legislature.

In the fall of 2016, the New Mexico End-of-Life Options Coalition was established to advocate for enactment of such legislation. The Coalition identified bill sponsors for both the House and Senate, drafted medical aid-in-dying legislation and mounted a full campaign during the 2017 legislative session. The bill had one successful hearing in the House and two in the Senate. Despite the monumental efforts of advocates and health professionals from across the state, the New Mexico End of Life Options Act failed to pass. Following an hour-long debate by the full Senate, SB 252 was narrowly defeated 22-20. The bill will be presented again in the upcoming 2019 legislative session.

The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act will be closely modeled after medical aid-in-dying legislation in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Montana and Washington D.C. The Act will provide a compassionate choice for terminally ill people who are suffering from an incurable illness or condition. The legislation will include many of the same important protections that have worked in Oregon for more than 20 years.


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