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 went even further than that. The law didn’t just allow but actually required doctors to take steps to help a patient commit suicide—claiming that this is not “participating” in the deadly process.
The law would have forced physicians who hold to basic medical-ethics principles (e.g., “do no harm”) 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 some 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 physician-assisted suicide.
In 2021, New Mexico enacted the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. The law allowed health-care providers to prescribe life-ending drugs to individuals who meet certain requirements. But that’s not all.
The law had a “Referral Requirement” that forced doctors who object to PAS to make a fatal connection by referring patients to individuals or organizations who would assist them in ending their lives. This requirement would have forced providers like Dr. Lacy to facilitate assisted suicide in New Mexico by moving patients closer to their death. Furthermore, the law’s “Informing Requirement” forced health-care professionals to tell terminally ill patients that assisted suicide was 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 New Mexico law violated the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and religious freedom.
In addition, the law had a “Membership Requirement” that prohibited professional associations in Mew Mexico from ensuring its members did not participate in assisted suicide. This requirement would have forced 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. Desiring to resolve the lawsuit, New Mexico lawmakers drafted a new bill known as the “Refusal of End-of-Life Options Act,” which allows doctors to decline to participate in assisted suicide if it violates their conscience or religious beliefs.
The bill passed the New Mexico Senate and unanimously passed the House in March 2023. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law a month later, protecting medical professionals who have religious or conscientious objections to assisted suicide. As a result of the new law, ADF agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.
- 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.
- March 2023: The New Mexico Senate and House passed the Refusal of End-of-Life Options Act, which allows doctors to decline to participate in assisted suicide for religious or conscientious reasons.
- April 2023: Lujan Grisham signed the new bill into law, protecting religious and conscientious objections for medical professionals in New Mexico. As a result, ADF dismissed the lawsuit.
The bottom line
The government can’t force health-care professionals to violate medical ethics or their religious convictions to practice medicine.