ACLU of New Mexico Defends Patient's End-of-Life Wishes

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
June 9, 2005 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of New Mexico
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


ALBUQUERQUE — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico announced today that it has sued the New Mexico Orthopaedic Surgery Center for requiring a patient to abandon his living will prior to receiving medical care, which the ACLU said violates the New Mexico Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act.

“Whether to be kept alive or to be allowed to die is perhaps the most private of decisions that any person can face,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “Now a Texas-based company is claiming that power for itself. Patients should be in control of how they end their lives, not some insurance lawyer in Dallas.”

At issue is a requirement by the surgery center that all patients sign a medical procedures consent form acknowledging that the center will “not honor a request for ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ status and/or Advance Directives or Living Wills.”

The ACLU said that this practice violates the New Mexico Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act, which gives adults and emancipated minors the power to make advance health care directives. Lawyers for the surgery center claim that the center’s refusal to honor advance directives is allowable under the law’s “reason of conscience” exemption. However, Simonson dismissed that argument as a “diversionary tactic.”

“They haven’t produced any policy or mission statement demonstrating that a commitment to religious ideals informs their refusal to honor living wills,” Simonson said. “If the center really had a reason based in faith, why would they reject all advance directives, even those that would require doctors to try to prolong life?”

“I don’t think they care a whit about religious faith,” added Simonson. “I think they are cynically using the ‘reason of conscience’ exemption to reduce their liability for medical malpractice.”

Seventy-year-old Harold Folley, the ACLU’s client in the lawsuit filed late yesterday, receives periodic treatment from the center for a spinal condition. “I have the highest regard for the doctors who treat me,” said Folley. “But I will literally fight to the death to protect my right to die.”

The lawsuit seeks an award of statutory damages and asks the court to force the surgery center to provide treatment in accordance with New Mexico law. Folley has committed to donate any funds he receives from the lawsuit to charity. ACLU Staff Attorney George Bach and University of New Mexico Law School Professor Rob Schwartz are litigating the case on behalf of the ACLU.

Simonson added, “If Terri Schiavo taught us anything, it was to avoid ugly, painful controversies over the end of life by establishing your wishes in a living will. Mr. Folley did that; he took responsibility for himself and for his family. Now he has to fight off a big company to protect his most intimate wishes and we’re going help to him win that fight.”

A copy of the complaint is available at: /node/35227.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release