Steve Cole, a retired businessman, committed suicide in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with the assistance of his physician, Dr. Chris Jenkins, a local oncologist. Two months later, a grand jury indicted Dr. Jenkins for coercing or exerting undue influence on his patient to request medication for the purpose of ending his life, a first degree felony under the New Mexico Death with Dignity Act.
During a routine physical examination, Mr. Cole was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. Upon the recommendation of his daughter/son, Alex, Mr. Cole sought treatment from Dr. Jenkins, whom Alex had known since college. Dr. Jenkins’ examination revealed that Mr. Cole’s cancer was in an advanced state, and that he was unlikely to survive for six months. Mr. Cole nevertheless began chemo- and radiotherapy, and Alex returned home from the East Coast to be with him. By the first part of May, although the patient was experiencing great pain from the symptoms of the disease and the side effects of the therapy, Dr. Jenkins found that the cancer had begun to respond to treatment. In her/his opinion, the disease remained incurable and irreversible, but s/he could no longer reliably predict how much longer Mr. Cole might live.
On May 29, however, Mr. Cole asked Dr. Jenkins to prescribe medication to end his life. Dr. Jenkins referred Mr. Cole to Dr. Kim Sikora, Chief of Oncology at Albuquerque’s Providence Hospital, who confirmed Dr. Jenkins’ diagnosis and her/his opinion that Mr. Cole’s request for physician assisted suicide was a voluntary and informed decision. On June 9, Dr. Jenkins prescribed a lethal dose of morphine elixir for Mr. Cole. Two days later, Dr. Jenkins dispensed the medication to Mr. Cole at his home, and s/he was with him when he died from an overdose of morphine.
Approximately two weeks later, Mr. Cole’s friend and neighbor, Pat Bordick, went to the police with certain evidence, including Mr. Cole’s journal, which in Ms/r. Bordick’s opinion indicated that Mr. Cole had been coerced or influenced by others in his decision to commit suicide. Following an investigation, Dr. Jenkins was indicted.
Both the prosecution and defense are ready to proceed in the matter of State of New Mexico vs. Chris Jenkins, MD.
Written by Beth Brown and Brendan Sanchez, Albuquerque Academy
Adapted by Michelle Giger and Karl Johnson, Esq., Center for Civic Values
Thanks to Barbara McAneny, MD, New Mexico Cancer Center