MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: another state considers legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
NICK EICHER, HOST: In 1997, Oregon enacted the so-called Death with Dignity Act. It allowed people to end their lives with lethal drugs prescribed by a doctor. Since then, five other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit. Now, New Mexico is pushing its own physician-assisted suicide legislation.
But WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg spoke to experts who say the bill in New Mexico may be the worst.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: This month, a New Mexico Democratic state legislator officially introduced H-B 90, also known as the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act.
Wesley J. Smith is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He says the physician-assisted suicide bill reveals how far “death with dignity” advocates are willing to go.
SMITH: There are a lot, there are a lot of things in the law that really are showing how radical this whole agenda is.
First, the bill would give physician assistants and nurse practitioners, as well as doctors, the ability to prescribe life-ending drugs.
Smith says that’s problematic because PA’s and NP’s aren’t educated for as long as doctors and aren’t specialists in end-of-life palliative care. But advocates hope expanding the number of healthcare providers involved will make assisted suicide more accessible.
SMITH: One of the problems that assisted suicide advocates have is that many, many, many doctors in states where it’s legal don’t do it. So what they’re doing is with this is they’re opening up the ability to prescribe lethally to a far broader array of people so there’ll be more, a greater pool of people willing to prescribe.
In another legislative first, the proposed New Mexico bill allows providers to prescribe lethal medication via telemedicine consultation. That means a healthcare provider could approve a patient’s death without ever meeting him or her in person.
The bill also broadens the meaning of what qualifies as a “terminal illness.”
SMITH: It’s just so broad, you could drive a hearse through it.
The bill defines terminal illness as, quote—“a disease or condition that is incurable and irreversible, that will result in death within the foreseeable future.”
Discovery Institute’s Wesley Smith says that definition allows someone with a potentially terminal disease like to cancer to qualify as already terminally ill.
SMITH: So you will have people who are not actually even receiving end of life care who did not qualify for hospice, but who do qualify for assisted suicide.
New Mexico’s bill also shortens the common two to four week waiting period between when assisted suicide is prescribed and when it can be administered to just 48 hours.
SMITH: It does not allow for people to reflect, to emotionally and mentally adjust to having a serious diagnosis… it does not even necessarily allow for them to pursue a true second opinion.
Rita Marker is an attorney and the director of the Patients Rights Council. She says the bill worries her because when physician-assisted suicide becomes widely available, it becomes the cheapest treatment option for insurance companies to approve.
MARKER: So you have situations where patients say, yes, I do want that intervention, I do want that medication. And the insurance company says, no, we’re not going to cover it, but they will cover prescribed suicide.
Finally, Marker says she’s disturbed by how the bill forces dissenting healthcare providers to participate. All providers would have to discuss the availability of assisted suicide with patients given a terminal diagnoses. If a healthcare provider won’t prescribe assisted suicide, they must refer the patient to someone who will. Marker says both religious and non-religious providers alike see the danger in this.
MARKER: To try to paint everybody into a corner and say, oh, you’re just trying to impose your religious beliefs. This is not a matter of religion. It’s a matter of public policy.
Alex Schadenberg is the director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. He says he’s hopeful the bill can be defeated, even though New Mexico’s legislature is controlled by Democrats.
SCHADENBERG: Once you explain to people what it is, because most people think of assisted suicide in a theory, it’s a theory, but when you talk about what it actually is, and we have effectively talked to members of the legislature, quite a few of them will shift their vote. You know, silence won’t help us.
In 2017, the state Senate voted down a less radical version of the same bill. But New Mexico’s newly elected Democratic governor has expressed support for physician-assisted suicide. If this year’s bill wins legislative approval, it could quickly become law.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.