New Mexico's End-of-Life Options Act

A new death with dignity law allows terminally ill patients to request aid in dying under certain conditions.

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 will take 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 more gentle way of dying. In fact, New Mexico's law states that terminating one's life under the law is not suicide. (See HB47, Section 8.)

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 may 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

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, and
  • diagnosed with a terminal disease that will result in death within six months.

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

  • The patient gives a written request to their health care provider, signed in front of two qualified, adult witnesses. (The law sets out the specific form that the patient must use.)
  • The prescribing health care provider determines that the patient is capable of making health care decisions.
  • 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 is not being coerced or unduly influenced by others when making the request.
  • 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.

To use the medication, the patient must be able to ingest it on their own. A doctor or other person who administers the lethal medication could face criminal charges.

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

Updated April 16, 2021

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