Lawmaker eyes 'right to die' bill amid court loss

By Russell Contreras
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico state lawmaker is pushing for a law to allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with help from doctors a month after advocates for the practice suffered a court defeat.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, is scheduled Tuesday to discuss his proposal before a Legislative committee in Albuquerque and could launch the beginning of a heated debate going into the next legislative session.

Five other states allow residents to end their lives legally with medication prescribed by a doctor.

McCamley said he was prompted to act after New Mexico court decision and because it is a personal fight for him. The Las Cruces lawmaker lost his father two years ago due to a debilitating neurological disease, and he saw how he suffered.

“This shouldn’t be the government’s call,” McCamley said. “It should be your call.”

Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court refused to overturn a state law preventing doctors from ending the lives of terminally ill patients. The state’s assisted suicide law classifies such act as a fourth-degree felony.

The case involved a Santa Fe woman with advanced uterine cancer who wanted courts to clarify New Mexico’s laws preventing her from ending her life and putting doctors at risk.

In oral arguments, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office argued that the final decision on the legality of the practice should be left to state lawmakers, not the courts.

After the court defeat, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which launched the legal challenge in the state in 2012, vowed to take the fight to lawmakers.

Michel Lonergan, a spokes­man for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, said the governor “opposes assisted suicide.”

California last year joined the four other states in passing a law that allows residents to end their lives legally with medication prescribed by a doctor. State lawmakers approved the measure following the heavily publicized case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life in 2014.

Terminally ill patients can also end their lives in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont. Advocates have spurred debate in dozens of other statehouses around the country. So far, they’ve been unsuccessful.