ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --
ill patients have a fundamental right under the New
Mexico Constitution to seek a
physician's help in getting prescription medications if they want to end their
lives on their own terms, a state district judge ruled Monday.
Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash said
the constitution prohibits the state from depriving a person of life, liberty
or property without due process.
"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
Nash also ruled that doctors could not be
prosecuted under the state's assisted suicide
law, which classifies helping with suicide
as a fourth-degree felony. The plaintiffs in the case do not consider physicians
aiding in dying a form of suicide.
Mexico Attorney General's Office said
it is discussing the possibility of an appeal but needs to fully analyze the
judge's opinion before commenting further.
Nash's ruling stems from a two-day bench
trial in December in which two doctors and a Santa Fe woman with advanced
uterine cancer asked the judge to determine that physicians would not be
breaking the law if they wrote prescriptions for competent, terminally ill
patients who wanted to end their lives.
Doctors Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik
and patient Aja Riggs filed their lawsuit in 2012.
The lawsuit had the support of the American
Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Denver-based Compassion & Choices
and the New Mexico Psychological Association, the largest
organization of professional psychologists in the state. The psychologists'
group argued that assisted suicide
and "aid in dying" for terminally ill patients were fundamentally
"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," ACLU of New Mexico
Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives said in a statement.
court agreed that the New Mexico Constitution guarantees terminally-ill
patients they do not have to stay strapped in a dying process they find
unbearable," Schauer continued, according to CBS Albuquerque affiliate KRQE-TV.
Riggs, a 49-year-old Santa Fe resident, has
undergone aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment. She testified in
December that her cancer was in remission but said there have been days when
getting out of bed and walking 15 feet were an uphill battle.
Riggs said she wanted to live but also
wanted the option of dying if her condition worsened.
"I don't want to suffer needlessly at
the end," she told Nash during the trial.
Kathryn Tucker, director of legal affairs
for Compassion & Choices, has said there's growing support for physicians
to help terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.
Four other states, including Oregon, allow
patients to seek aid in dying if their conditions become unbearable.
Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops
was disappointed with Monday's ruling, saying there's a difference between
fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and the ability of someone to
take a person's life.
Opinions can differ with regards to the
survivability of illnesses, and medical treatments can progress, said Allen
Sanchez, executive director of the bishops' group.
"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," Sanchez said. "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