By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
A New Mexico doctor has launched a court case to protect the conscience rights of physicians who oppose assisted suicide.
New Mexico legalized assisted suicide in 2021 by passing of Bill HB 47 with the law coming into effect on June 18, 2021. The New Mexico assisted suicide law forces doctors who oppose assisted suicide to be complicit in the act.
The conscience right case was launched by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of Dr. Mark Lacy and the Christian Medical Dental Society on December 13, 2022.
The legal complaint states:
The Act purports to protect physicians who object to assisted suicide for reasons of conscience, saying they will not be required to “participate.” 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.
The Act compels objecting physicians to speak and inform terminally ill patients about the availability of assisted suicide. N.M. STAT. ANN. § 24-7C-6.
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. N.M. STAT. ANN. § 24-7C-7(C).
The State of New Mexico thus compels objecting health care professionals to speak a certain message about assisted suicide, and forces them to provide proximate, formal, and material cooperation in an unethical …act.
If physicians refuse to inform patients about assisted suicide or refuse to refer patients to providers and entities who are able and willing to participate, they violate the Act and face substantial civil, administrative, and professional liability. They also risk losing their medical licenses.
In other words, the New Mexico assisted suicide law requires doctors to provide information and to refer patients to physicians or organizations who are willing to assist suicides. These requirements violate the conscience rights of physicians.
On February 28, 2022 a similar conscience rights court case was filed in a California court by a group of doctors who oppose assisted suicide. The California legislature had passed assisted suicide expansion bill SB 380 which forced doctors who oppose assisted suicide to be complicit in the act.
In September 2022, U.S. District Judge Fernando Aenlle-Rocha from the Central District of California ruled that California SB 380 violates the First Amendment rights of doctors by requiring them to participate in assisted suicide.
Judge Aenlle-Rocha also granted a preliminary injunction barring the state from compelling health care providers to document a patient’s request for assisted suicide.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and EPC-USA hope that a similar decision will be made in New Mexico to protect the conscience rights of physicians who oppose intentionally ending patients’ lives by assisted suicide.