Physician-Assisted Suicide Ruled Legal by New Mexico Judge

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Laura Schauer Ives, Managing Attorney for ACLU-New Mexico, plaintiffs Katherine Morris, MD, and Aroop Mangalik, MD, and Kathryn Tucker, Director of Legal Services for Compassion & Choices

Source: Michah McCoy, “ACLU Seeks Ruling That Physicians Can Provide Aid in Dying,” www.aclu.nm.org, Mar. 15, 2012

A Jan. 13, 2014 ruling by Second Judicial Judge Nan G. Nash may make New Mexico the fifth US state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The decision prohibits the prosecution of physicians who help competent terminally ill patients end their lives.
 
The ruling issued from the Bernalillo County Courthouse stated, “This court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.” The decision further stated “NMSA 1978 § 30-2-4 [“Assisted Suicide Statute”] therefore violates our State constitution when applied to aid in dying.”

The ACLU and Compassion and Choices filed the lawsuit against New Mexico in Mar. 2012 on behalf of Sante Fe oncologists Katherine Morris, MD, and Aroop Mangalik, MD, and Aja Riggs, a Santa Fe resident in remission from advanced uterine cancer.

Laura Schauer Ives, Legal Director of ACLU of New Mexico, stated, “New Mexicans, both healthy and sick, now enjoy the comfort and peace of mind that come with knowing they can prevent a prolonged, agonized dying process at the end of life.”

Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated, “As long as there is a chance for human error, we can’t have that. You can never reverse the decision you’ve made. It’s the finality of it… If we are not willing to give that ability to a judge and jury by doing away with the death penalty in New Mexico, we should not be willing to give one doctor and two witnesses that ability.”

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is analyzing the ruling to determine if the state will file an appeal to the State Supreme Court. If the ruling is affirmed, it will apply to the state of New Mexico as a whole.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in four states: Oregon (Nov. 8, 1994), Washington (Nov. Nov. 4, 2008), Montana (Dec. 31, 2009), and Vermont (May 20, 2013).

Sources:

ACLU of New Mexico, “Morris v. NM,” www.aclu.nm.org, Mar. 15, 2012

Susan Montoya Bryan, “New Mexico Right to Die Case: Ruling Will Allow Doctors to Help Terminally Ill Patients End Their Lives,” www.huffingtonpost.com, Jan. 14, 2014

Erik Eckholm, “New Mexico Judge Affirms Right to ‘Aid in Dying,'” www.nytimes.com, Jan. 13, 2014

Michah McCoy, “Victory! NM Court Says Physician Aid in Dying Is a Fundamental Right, ” www.aclu-nm.org, Jan. 13, 2014

“Katherine Morris, MD, Aroop Mangalik, MD, and Aja Riggs v. Kari Brandenberg, District Attorney for Bernalillo County, and Gary King, Attorney General of the State of New Mexico,” www.newmexico.tylerhost.net, Jan. 13, 2014

Lateef Mungin, “New Mexico Doctors Can Help Terminal Patients Die, Judge Says,” www.cnn.com, Jan. 14, 2014