Case Closed: Lawsuit Challenging the End-of-Life Options Act Dismissed

Update #2: April 14, 2023

Last week, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed SB 471 into law. The bill amended the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act by expanding the preexisting immunities clauses in the Act to expressly allow clinicians with conscience conflicts not to discuss MAID in the course of treatment  or refer their MAID-requesting patients (see more about the lawsuit and legislation below).

As soon as Governor Grisham signed the bill, the plaintiffs of the lawsuit requested the dismissal of their complaint, all parties agreed and the lawsuit was officially dismissed by the federal Judge.

We are relieved to have the lawsuit dismissed and, most importantly, that the end of life option of medical aid in dying remains available for those eligible, terminally-ill New Mexicans who choose it. All New Mexicans deserve to understand their right to prepare advance directives, appoint a surrogate healthcare decision-maker, and to make their own decisions about end of life options. EOLONM has made great progress in establishing trusted services and has become a go-to resource for patients, families and healthcare providers to access end of life information and assistance, including the legal option of medical aid in dying.

Update #1: March 28, 2023

The recent lawsuit filed in federal court by the Christian Medical and Dental Associations® along with lawyers representing the Alliance Defending Freedom against the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act (EWEOLO Act) claimed that the law impinges on the conscience protections of their members by requiring providers to discuss all legal end of life options with their seriously ill patients and referring those who request MAID, if they are not willing to provide the service.  The lawsuit is progressing slowly and time will tell how the courts decide, but in the meantime… 

…halfway through the recent 60-day legislative session, identical House and Senate bills were introduced to amend the EWEOLO Act. The amendments were an effort to clarify the language to assure concerned clinicians that the law will now provide a narrow exception allowing those clinicians with conscience conflicts to choose not to discuss end of life issues or refer their requesting patients. Ultimately these bills passed both chambers on a combined 104-0 positive vote, with no negative testimony and only a minor floor debate.

We expect Governor Grisham will sign the bill soon. There is a chance that passing these amendments could actually moot the plaintiff’s claims and the lawsuit could be dismissed, potentially avoiding any possible negative consequence of a federal court battle that could be appealed up to the Supreme Court. 

Original Post: December 21, 2022

On Thursday, December 15th, 2022 we were informed that a physician and the Christian Medical and Dental Association filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico challenging aspects of the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. The lawsuit does not attack the right to medical aid in dying which is at the heart of the Act. Medical aid in dying will continue to be available regardless of the Court’s eventual decision on this case. The suit only focuses on three specific aspects of the Act having to do with physicians who elect not to participate in medical aid in dying due to their personal beliefs.     

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office will take the lead in defending the statute with support from local and national attorneys, participating clinicians, health professional organizations, national partners, individual supporters, and End of Life Options NM. Meetings are currently underway to coordinate these various resources and develop an overall strategy to vigorously protect the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. We will keep our volunteers, clinicians, patients, and supporters apprised as this lawsuit moves forward.   

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