New Mexico's End-of-Life Options Act

New Mexico’s death with dignity law allows terminally ill patients to request aid in dying under certain conditions.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University
Updated by Jeff Burtka, Attorney · George Mason University Law School

In the 2021 legislative session, New Mexico lawmakers passed a death with dignity bill called the End-of-Life Options Act (HB47). Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law April 8, 2021, and it took effect on June 18, 2021. The End-of-Life Options Act allows terminally ill patients to request aid in dying in certain clearly defined situations.

This article first clarifies some confusing language related to death with dignity laws, and then sets out the basics of New Mexico's law.

Death With Dignity, Assisted Suicide, Right to Die: What's the Difference?

"Death with dignity" is one of the most commonly accepted phrases describing the process by which a terminally ill person ingests prescribed medication to hasten death. Many people still think of this process as "assisted suicide" or "physician assisted suicide."

However, proponents of death with dignity argue that the term "suicide" doesn't apply to terminally ill people who would prefer to live but, facing certain death within months, choose a gentler way of dying. In fact, New Mexico's law states that terminating one's life under the law is not suicide. (N.M. Stat. § 24-7C-8 (2024).)

Increasingly, health organizations are turning away from the term "suicide" to describe a terminally ill patient's choice to reduce the suffering of an inevitable death. The phrase "aid in dying" is becoming a more accepted way to refer to this process.

You might also see the phrase "right to die" used in place of "death with dignity." However, "right to die" is more accurately used in the context of directing one's own medical care—that is, refusing life-sustaining treatment such as a respirator or feeding tubes when permanently unconscious or close to death.

You can provide your own health care directions by completing a New Mexico living will and durable power of attorney for health care. (See the end of this article for more information.)

Death With Dignity Requirements in New Mexico

Both doctors and patients must comply with certain legal requirements for a patient to receive a prescription for aid-in-dying medication.

Which Patients Can Obtain Aid-In-Dying Medication?

To request aid-in-dying medication in New Mexico, a patient must be:

  • at least 18 years old
  • a New Mexico resident
  • mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions
  • physically able to self-administer the medical aid-in-dying medication, and
  • diagnosed with a terminal disease that will result in death within six months.

(N.M. Stat. §§ 24-7C-2; 24-7C-3 (2024).)

How Can a Patient Get Aid-In-Dying Medication?

A patient who meets the requirements above will be prescribed aid-in-dying medication only if:

  • The patient gives a written request to the doctor. (The law sets out the specific form that the patient must use.)
  • The patient signs and dates the request for aid-in-dying medication in front of two qualified, adult witnesses. (See below for witness qualifications.)
  • The witnesses sign and date the form and confirm the patient's identity.
  • The witnesses declare that the patient has signed the request in their presence and is of sound mind and not under duress, fraud, or undue influence.
  • The witnesses declare that they aren't the patient's "health care provider"—in other words, a doctor, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant.

(N.M. Stat. §§ 24-7C-2; 24-7C-3 (2024).)

New Mexico law limits who can be the two witnesses for the patient's request for aid-in-dying medication. A witness can't be the patient's doctor, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant. Also, one of the two witnesses can't be:

  • related to the patient by blood, marriage, or adoption, or
  • an employee, owner, or operator of the health care facility where the patient is receiving care.

(N.M. Stat. §§ 24-7C-2; 24-7C-3 (2024).)

What Are the Doctor's Obligations?

A doctor may prescribe aid-in-dying medication to an eligible patient only if:

  • The prescribing health care provider determines that the patient is capable of making health care decisions.
  • The prescribing provider determines that the patient has a terminal disease that will result in death within six months
  • The prescribing provider affirms either that the patient is enrolled in a hospice program or that one other health care provider has confirmed the patient's diagnosis and prognosis.
  • The prescribing provider confirms that the patient is capable of self-administering the aid-in-dying medication.
  • The patient has a psychological examination, if the prescribing health care provider or the consulting health care provider feels the patient's judgment is impaired.
  • The prescribing provider confirms that the patient's request for the prescription is voluntary and that the patient isn't being coerced or unduly influenced by others when making the request.
  • The prescribing provider informs the patient of any risks and the probable result of using the medication.
  • The prescribing provider informs the patient of any feasible alternatives to the medication, including care to relieve pain and keep the patient comfortable.
  • The prescribing provider offers the patient the opportunity to withdraw the request for aid-in-dying medication before granting the prescription.

(N.M. Stat. §§ 24-7C-3; 24-7C-4; 24-7C-6 (2024).)

Before dispensing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication, a pharmacy must wait 48 hours after the prescribing provider has written the prescription—unless the prescribing provider has confirmed that the patient has less than 48 hours to live. (N.M. Stat. § 24-7C-5 (2024).)

To use the medication, the patient must ingest it on their own. A doctor or other person who administers the lethal medication could face criminal charges. (N.M. Stat. §§ 24-7C-2; 24-7C-8 (2024).)

You can read the full text of the End-of-Life Options Act on the New Mexico government's website.

Learn More

To find out more about the history and current status of death with dignity laws in the United States, visit the website of the Death With Dignity National Center.

For information about appointing a health care agent and making known your own wishes for medical care at the end of life, see the Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney section of Nolo.com.

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