Medical professionals have long subscribed to a code of ethics that governs the way they treat patients.
The Hippocratic Oath, which medical professionals have taken for thousands of years, holds that one of the ethical responsibilities of a doctor is to “neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor … make a suggestion to this effect.”
But today, some are arguing that medical professionals should be allowed to participate in their patients’ deaths through physician-assisted suicide (PAS).
A New Mexico law passed in 2021 goes even further than that. The law doesn’t just allow but actually requires doctors to take steps that help a patient commit suicide—and then claims that this is not “participating” in the deadly process.
Physicians who hold to basic medical-ethics principles (e.g., “do no harm”) are forced to facilitate PAS or face penalties and even the loss of their medical licenses.
Who are Dr. Mark Lacy and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations?
Dr. Mark Lacy is an infectious disease specialist at Christus St. Vincent’s Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He received his doctorate in medicine from the University of Arizona, and he has 39 years of experience in the medical field.
Dr. Lacy is also a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA), a nonprofit organization with roughly 13,000 members. The organization “educates, encourages, and equips Christian healthcare professionals to glorify God.”
CMDA members seek to fulfill this mission by practicing health care while living out their Christian beliefs, including the belief that human life is sacred. That is why Dr. Lacy and his fellow CMDA members are morally opposed to PAS.
In 2021, New Mexico enacted the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. The act allows health-care providers to prescribe life-ending drugs to individuals who meet certain requirements. But that’s not all.
The law has a “Referral Requirement” that forces doctors who object to PAS to make a fatal connection by referring patients to individuals or organizations who will assist them in ending their lives. This requirement would force providers like Dr. Lacy to facilitate PAS by moving patients closer to their death. Furthermore, the law’s “Informing Requirement” forces health-care professionals to tell terminally ill patients that assisted suicide is a “reasonable option” they should consider.
By compelling Dr. Lacy to speak and forcing him to contradict both his Christian beliefs and his best medical judgment, the law violates the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and religious freedom.
In addition, the New Mexico law has a “Membership Requirement” that prohibits professional associations from ensuring its members do not participate in PAS. This requirement would force CMDA to accept or retain members who openly participate in the practice, which cuts directly against the organization’s Christian mission and message.
In December 2022, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging the law’s unconstitutional requirements on behalf of Dr. Lacy and CMDA. The case is awaiting hearing at a federal district court in New Mexico.
What’s at stake?
New Mexico’s End-of-Life Options Act attempts to forward the government’s agenda by forcing medical professionals and organizations to advance PAS regardless of their religious or ethical beliefs.
The First Amendment protects Americans from this type of government overreach, and a win for Dr. Lacy would ensure the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion remain intact for health-care providers who oppose physician-assisted suicide.
- April 2021: New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act into law.
- December 2022: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Lacy and CMDA.
- Currently: The case is awaiting hearing at a federal district court in New Mexico.
The bottom line
The government can’t force health-care professionals to violate medical ethics or their religious convictions to practice medicine.