As legislative sessions come to an end, some years we get to celebrate the passing of a new aid-in-dying law, and sometimes we have to grieve a bill stalling in the process. This year, we get to do both. We can learn from both our successes and failures. Reflecting on the legislative process each year allows us to come back stronger and ready to fight another year.

Celebrating Success in New Mexico

On June 18th, 2021, the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act became the tenth death with dignity law to pass in our country. This momentous day is one we can all celebrate, as over 73 million United States residents now have the option to die with dignity if and when they become eligible.

This isn’t just a huge opportunity for New Mexicans. The Act is particularly innovative in increasing patient access, and it should be a model for future death with dignity laws:

  • Shorter Waiting Period: Patients in New Mexico only have to wait 48 hours to have their prescription filled for aid-in-dying medication after it is written by their prescribing health care provider. If the health care provider feels a patient will likely die sooner, the waiting period can be waived.
  • Additional Providers: New Mexico is the first state to authorize advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to participate as either the prescribing or consulting health care provider, as long as at least one physician is involved in assessing the patient.
  • Hospice Provision: If a patient is already enrolled in hospice, they do not need a consulting health care provider to participate, only a prescribing physician, as they would have already been evaluated by a palliative healthcare team, and deemed terminally ill.

We have so much we can learn from New Mexico’s long-term strategies, fighting spirit, and utilizing lessons learned in each successive legislation session. As we all know, death with dignity laws do not happen in one or two legislative sessions. They take years and years of hard work, tireless advocacy, hours upon hours of human power, and being well informed on the state political climate, constituents, and navigating roadblocks as they pop up.

We could not be more excited to celebrate alongside New Mexico.

Reflecting on the 2021 Legislative Sessions

It is a big deal that New Mexico now has an aid-in-dying law. While we are thrilled to celebrate their win, we also mourn the losses we experienced in New York and Nevada this year. We fought hard to pass death with dignity laws in both states, had committed advocates and bill sponsors, had the support of lobbyists and political consultants, and collectively gave it everything we had.

It is okay to feel defeated, heartbroken, and reluctant to do it all over again next legislative session. But, we cannot let it wear us down or give up hope. Let’s focus on some positives and take some time to regroup. Both New York and Nevada doubled support bases for death with dignity this session. This is huge. Both states had thousands of constituents write letters to their legislators supporting their aid-in-dying bills, submitted letters to the editors of their local newspapers, and sent personal notes pleading their governor to pass these laws. This work was not done in vain. As Death with Dignity National Center’s Executive Director, Peg Sandeen, explains it, “It is not necessarily that we lost this year, but we are losing forward…we make plans for what we want to accomplish this year, and that means next year, we are going to get this much further.”

What We Can Learn From the New Mexico in Pushing Forward

New Mexico not only built some innovative patient-centered practices into their aid-in-dying law, but is a shining example of utilizing informed strategies to win. They took past failures and integrated lessons learned to inform strategies for successive legislative sessions. This is how they won in 2021.

Stay Tuned

Peg recently had the opportunity to interview New Mexico End-of-Life Options Coalition’s Founding Member, Barak Wolff, where they discussed strategies that led to victory this year. We’ll have a video of that conversation to share shortly, and we’d love to hear from anyone thinking about how to support legislation in 2021-2022. Please reach out to us at any time.