On April 8, 2021, New Mexico became the latest and ninth state (along with Washington D.C.) to legalize “medically assisted suicide”.
Note the new terminology used is no longer called “physician-assisted suicide”. This is no accident but rather reflects the persistent expansion of assisted suicide law to allow even non-physicians like physician assistants and nurse practitioners to determine that a requesting patient has six months or less to live and provide them with the suicide drugs.
Ironically, Medicare benefit rules for certifying a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less to be eligible for hospice states that “No one other than a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy can certify or re-certify a terminal illness”. (Emphasis added) And having worked as a home hospice, ICU and oncology nurse, I know how difficult it is to predict when a patient is expected to die.
And, like other assisted suicide laws, New Mexico’s law also has unenforceable and easily circumvented “safeguards’ like mental health evaluations that are required for any other suicidal patient.
The law also requires that terminally ill patients has “a right to know” about all legal options including assisted suicide and that healthcare providers who refuse to participate in medically assisted suicide must refer that patient to another willing provider.
Nevertheless, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham said she signed the law HB0047 to secure the “peace of mind and humanity this legislation provides.”
THE MEDICAL ETHICS AND DIVERSITY ACT
In a striking contrast to New Mexico’s assisted suicide law, Governor Asa Hutchison signed the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act” just days earlier on Friday, March 26, 2021 which expanded conscience rights in the state.
As the statute eloquently states:
“The right of conscience is a fundamental and unalienable right.
“The right of conscience was central to the founding of the United States, has been deeply rooted in the history and tradition of the United States for centuries, and has been central to the practice of medicine through the Hippocratic oath for millennia … The swift pace of scientific advancement and the expansion, of medical capabilities, along with the notion that medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers are mere public utilities, promise only to exacerbate the current crisis unless something is done to restore the importance of the right of conscience.
It is the public policy of this state to protect the right of conscience of medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers. It is the purpose of this subchapter to protect all medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers from discrimination, punishment, or retaliation as a result of any instance of conscientious medical objection.”
However, opponents of the law like the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that it would allow doctors to refuse to offer a host of services for LGBTQ patients.
In response to this criticism, Governor Hutchinson stated:
“I have signed into law SB289, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. I weighed this bill very carefully, and it should be noted that I opposed the bill in the 2017 legislative session. The bill was changed to ensure that the exercise of the right of conscience is limited to ‘conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.’ I support this right of conscience so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people. Most importantly, the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin continue to apply to the delivery of health care services.”
As a nurse myself, I would not and never have refused to care for any patient. Discrimination has no place in healthcare.
However, I have been threatened with termination when I have refused to follow an order that would cause a patient’s death. It wasn’t the patient I objected to but rather the action ordered.
Conversely, I would not want a healthcare provider caring for me who supports assisted suicide, abortion, etc. This is why I ask my doctors about their stands on such issues before I become their patient.
Our country and our healthcare systems need laws, healthcare providers and institutions that we can trust to protect us. Conscience rights protections are a critical necessity for that to happen.