Bill Sponsor, Daughter Share Emotional Personal Story in Support of End-of-Life Options

Bill to Give Some Terminally Ill New Mexicans Option of Medical Aid in Dying Heads to House Floor  

Rep. Debbie Armstrong and her daughter Erin at a hearing on Saturday gave emotional testimony in support HB 47, The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act, which the House Judiciary Committee then passed 7-3 and is now headed for its final vote in the House.

Armstrong, the primary sponsor of HB 47, has worked for many years to make medical-aid-in-dying an option for New Mexicans. She told the committee, however, that the work has become even more personal since her daughter’s cancer returned with devastating effects two years ago.

“I have worked with terminal patients since I first started my healthcare career as a physical therapist 45 years ago,” Armstrong said, “but this year it is closer to home.”

Armstrong then turned over her screen on the Zoom hearing to Erin who shared her story.

“I desperately want to live,” Erin, 39, told the committee. “I’m fighting for it every day and I’ll keep fighting.”

Erin, who was first diagnosed with cancer as a teenager, had been able to manage the disease for more than 20 years before it returned stronger than ever in 2019, metastasizing in her bones, lungs, liver and brain.

She told the committee that while a clinical trial drug she is now taking appears to be working, that may be fleeting, like other treatments before it. She said that the terrible nerve pain she has already experienced makes her fearful of what she might feel at the end of her battle with this disease.

“I am unspeakably sad at the thought of being gone,” Erin said, “but what scares me is the potential agony of it. Having the option of medical-aid-in-dying will bring me immeasurable peace in my journey to live and, eventually, to die.”

Following Erin’s sharing her story, dozens of New Mexicans also shared their personal stories about end-of-life care before the committee members debate the bill itself.

HB 47, which was carefully drafted with input from experts and community members, allows a healthcare provider to prescribe life-ending medication to a patient with no more than six months to live if a healthcare provider has determined that the patient has a terminal illness and is mentally capable of making their own healthcare decisions. The prescription can only be administered by the patient themselves and the prescription can be filled no sooner than 48 hours after it is written. The act contains extensive safeguards against abuse and misuse.

The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act is a compassionate bill that would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep, if their suffering becomes unbearable,” Armstrong said.

The bill, also sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil and carried in the Senate by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Sen. Bill O’Neill, specifically allows for healthcare providers and facilities to opt out of participating in aid-in-dying. Healthcare providers will never be required to provide life-ending medications to a patient and healthcare facilities need only have a clear policy prohibiting the practice, if they want to opt out.

“This bill is about choices. Choices for patients and choices for healthcare providers,” Armstrong said. “Only patients and healthcare providers who want to participate in aid-in-dying will do so.”

HB 47 now goes to the House floor for a vote by the full House.

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About Rep. Armstrong: Debbie, Chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, is a long-time health care advocate serving her second term in the New Mexico House of Representatives. Having started her career as a physical therapist, she has worked extensively as a health care administrator, working 10 years with Presbyterian Medical Services in Santa Fe. Prior to serving as Secretary of New Mexico’s Aging and Long-Terms Services Department, she oversaw the department’s Consumer and Elder Rights Division. Debbie is the mother of three adult children and became a grandmother last year. She lives in Albuquerque’s North Valley.  Follow her on Twitter @NMRepArmstrong and on Facebook, and sign up for email and text updates.

 

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published this page in Latest News 2021-02-13 16:12:30 -0700

Paid for by Debbie Armstrong for New Mexico, Jill Riester, Treasurer

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