Doctor, Christian medical group sue New Mexico over physician assisted suicide law

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A doctor and a Christian medical group have filed a lawsuit against New Mexico over an assisted suicide law passed last year they say violates their sincerely-held religious objections to the controversial practice.

Dr. Mark Lacy and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations filed a lawsuit against New Mexico on Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.

Defendants named in the suit include the state's Attorney General Hector Balderas, Department of Health Acting Secretary Dr. David R. Scrase, and members of the state Medical Board.

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At issue was the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act, a law passed last year that legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill residents of New Mexico.

The lawsuit argues that the law does not adequately protect the conscientious objection rights of medical professionals opposed to participating in the killing of patients before natural death.

It adds that the Act “compels objecting physicians to speak and inform terminally ill patients about the availability of assisted suicide,” reads the suit, in part.

“The Act forces objecting physicians to refer their patients to physicians or organizations who are ‘able and willing to carry out’ the patient’s assisted suicide. [And] expressly prohibits professional associations like CMDA from suspending, denying, or revoking membership to physicians who participate in assisted suicide, violating CMDA’s right to associate with members who will present a consistent message.”

Lacy and the Christian organization are being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, which has argued religious liberty cases before the United States Supreme Court.  

ADF Senior Counsel Mark Lippelmann said in a statement released Thursday that he believes “New Mexico is unlawfully compelling physicians to speak a certain message about assisted suicide, even if they object for reasons of conscience or faith.”

“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,” stated Lippelmann.

In April of last year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act, which was named after a former judge who, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, became an advocate for euthanasia. She died in 2018.

In a statement released at the time she signed the bill, Grisham said that she considered it “a long overdue moment that I am humbled to have a small part in.”

“Dignity in dying — making the clear-eyed choice to prevent suffering at the end of a terminal illness — is a self-evidently humane policy,” stated Grisham.

“I am proud to lead a state where so many advocates, including the late Elizabeth Whitefield, fought so hard for so many who will now have access to the peace of mind and humanity this legislation provides.”

Cosponsored by state Reps. Day Hochman-Vigil and Patricia Roybal Caballero, and state Sen. Bill O’Neill, the act allows for terminally ill patients of sound mind to obtain medication that can end their lives.

A website in support of the law explained that, to be eligible for assisted suicide, “a person must be an adult, terminally ill, mentally capable of making an informed decision and must be a New Mexico resident,” and “must be able to self-administer the medication for a peaceful death.”

The website also insists that the procedure “is entirely voluntary for patients, health care providers, and pharmacists. No one is obligated to participate.” 

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