By Connie Hostetler of the Silver City End of Life Options Coalition

The challenge for New Mexico to join with seven other states plus the District of Columbia will be placed before our legislature in 2019. Will we stand with the majority of Americans who believe that Medical Aid in Dying is part of the evolution from doctor-driven to patient-driven medical care, or will we refuse to make a stand?

What is accepted in the culture of this country has changed over the years. My mom remembers that throwing trash out the window of the car was totally acceptable in her day. My dad smoked cigarettes in the car during family vacations. My son stood in the front seat of the car behind my right shoulder. My parents never questioned the medical system in this country. We all have experiences of friends or family members who have lived the final days, months and years of their lives in pain, incontinent in nursing homes, in and out of the hospital, surgery after surgery, procedure after procedure, medication after medication. Do we or do we not have the right to determine what medical treatment is acceptable to us? More and more we have begun to ask questions, make demands and take control.

Since 1974, Hospice has been available for persons who have a terminal diagnosis of less than one year. Hospice provides comfort/palliative care, not curative medications. The person must be “housebound” while nurses, along with the patient and family, decide what measures can be taken to provide the doctor-prescribed comfort. Sometimes palliative sedation can be prescribed with the intent of inducing unconsciousness in order to reduce suffering. That decision is legal and varies among medical institutions and medical practices. The suffering as a result of a terminal illness can be both physically and mentally unbearable. Plans can be made through living wills (advanced directives) and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders. However, experience demonstrates that those plans are easily ignored and are often surrounded by indecision and complicated care. Having a strong advocate available and knowledgeable of a person’s wishes is paramount.

In Oregon, Medical Aid in Dying permits a doctor to prescribe a terminal medication that must be self administered by the person. Multiple safeguards are contained in the law including time frames, witnessed written requests, two physicians and a 6-month diagnosed terminal disease.

Why not offer such an option for terminal patients who have maintained their mental competencies here in New Mexico? A 2014 study taken in our state revealed support for “death with dignity” between 58% and 69% depending on one’s age. The continued controversy and the historically minimal use of this option in those seven states where it is legal demonstrate that it is not for everyone. However, can we now draw on our compassion and concern to offer some choice and control to those we love by respecting the person’s decision to gather family and friends, create their own dignity in dying, and leave this world aware and in peace by supporting the End of Life Options Act?

Let’s put ourselves in the Top Ten!

For more information on end of life options see the following resources:

Compassion & Choices 

Death with Dignity National Center 

To contact the Silver City End of Life Options Coalition or leave comments: sceolocoalition@innerconnections.us