New Mexico recently enacted an aid-in-dying law with repercussions for your estate planning needs. By doing so, they joined the ranks of nine other states and the District of Columbia. The new law is named for a retired New Mexico judge who died after a long battle with cancer. About 18 months before her death, she testified before the legislature about her support for a law that would give patients greater end-of-life options. Titled the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act (the “Act”), the new law contains some standard aid-in-dying provisions, along with some that are unique to New Mexico. Here are some of the key takeaways from the Act.
The Healthcare Provider’s Role with Aid-in-Dying
The Act requires the following from health care providers:
- Two medical professionals (at least one must be a physician) must confirm that the patient has a terminal illness. Only patients who are expected to die within the next six months are eligible.
- The person writing the prescription must explain all options to the patient.
- If there’s any doubt of the patient’s mental capacity, a mental health professional should assess the patient.
- All prescribing healthcare professionals must provide documentation to the New Mexico Department of Health.
One thing the law does not do is force healthcare providers to participate. Providers are allowed to opt out due to moral objections. Also, the Act protects health care providers from criminal or civil liability, disciplinary action, and professional sanctions if they participate or refuse to participate in end-of-life treatments.
What’s Expected from Patients Under the Act
This new aid-in-dying law has a few requirements for patients, too:
- Patients must ask for the end-of-life treatment in writing. In fact, the Act contains a form titled “Request to End My Life in a Peaceful Manner.” At least two people must witness the patient’s signature on the request. Only one can be related to the patient.
- Patients may use their end-of-life drugs at any time. However, dignity-in-death advocates note that many people hold onto the drugs and never use them.
- Only the patient can administer the drugs.
The intention here is to allow terminally ill people to choose dignity in death. One proponent of the aid-in-dying law stated:
“Medical aid in dying… is about the autonomy and compassion and the ability to live one’s life and end one’s life the way they choose.”
However, people who do not support the Act fear that terminally ill patients could be pressured to end their lives prematurely. They also feel that unscrupulous providers could take advantage of patients and their families.
The Aid-in-Dying Law Contains Some General Provisions
Some states with end-of-life laws require a 15-day waiting period for drugs to be dispensed to patients. However, New Mexico’s new law only requires a 48-hour waiting period.
The patient’s death certificate will state that the underlying illness was the cause of death.
And, finally, the Act prohibits life insurance companies from denying payments to families whose loved one used end-of-life options.
About the Author
Attorney Robert Slutsky was one of the first lawyers in Pennsylvania to focus on elder law issues, including Medicaid. Since 1992, he has helped countless people find solutions that work for their individual situations.
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