A New Mexico doctor and national medical association are suing the “Land of Enchantment” over a new law that requires doctors – even those who object – to facilitate a terminal patient’s suicide.
For centuries, members of the medical profession have taken an oath that they will avoid harming their patients. And state laws since the founding of the country have outlawed suicide and assisting in a suicide. In the last handful of years, however, the ugly practice has been granted legislative approval in various states, now including New Mexico.
The Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act (the Act) was passed by the New Mexico legislature in 2021. Not only does it allow patients with a “terminal illness” to seek a prescription for drugs that they can use to kill themselves, it enlists doctors in the process and compels them to facilitate suicides, even over their objections.
Mark Lacy, M.D. and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), on behalf of their New Mexico members, are now suing New Mexico over the violations to conscience rights resulting from the Act. They are represented by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in New Mexico, wastes no time in addressing the supposed “rights of conscience” contained in the law, dismissing them as a hollow promise.
“The Act purports to protect physicians who object to assisted suicide for reasons of conscience, saying they will not be required to ‘participate,’” the official Complaint alleges. “But that promise rings hollow. The Act does not define the word ‘participate,’ requires conscientious objectors to facilitate suicide in material ways, and expressly prohibits professional associations like CMDA from taking action to ensure that their members advance—rather than undermine—their mission and message.”
So, what is an objecting physician still required to do by the law if he is approached by a patient seeking to end their life?
“The Act compels objecting physicians to speak and inform terminally ill patients about the availability of assisted suicide,” the lawsuit states. The law also “forces objecting physicians to refer their patients to physicians or organization who are ‘able and willing to carry out’ the patient’s assisted suicide.”
Doctors who refuse to abide by the terms of the Act could “subject themselves to substantial liability and the possibility of losing their medical licenses and careers.”
Not only does the Act violate an objecting physician’s rights of conscience, but it requires the physician to speak the government’s preferred message promoting assisted suicide. In other words, the government is compelling a doctor to speak and promote a message that they cannot.
That’s a serious First Amendment issue, according to the lawsuit.
Mark Lippelmann is ADF’s Senior Counsel. He explained the reasons for filing the lawsuit in a press release.
“New Mexico is unlawfully compelling physicians to speak a certain message about assisted suicide, even if they object for reasons of conscience or faith,” Lippelmann said. “The Christian doctors we represent believe that every life is sacred and full of inherent value, and that assisted suicide ends an innocent human life without justification. The government should not force doctors to surrender their religious, moral, and ethical convictions.”
Eleven jurisdictions now have legalized physician-assisted suicide: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
It’s bad enough when a law permits someone to take their own life. But when it also requires doctors to assist in the process against their medical ethics and deeply held beliefs about the sanctity of life, it crosses an extremely serious line.
The New Mexico lawsuit asks the court to declare the Act unconstitutional and bar the state from enforcing it. ADF is currently litigating a similar case in California on behalf of CMDA and a physician in that state.
The New Mexico case is Lacy v. Balderas.
Photo from Shutterstock.