New ruling in New Mexico allows doctors to assist terminally ill patients with suicide. Second Judicial Judge Nan Nash’s landmark ruling on Monday has just cleared the way to a new option for anyone who wants to end their suffering before it becomes unbearable.
Nash said that terminally ill patients have a fundamental right to request help dying because the New Mexico Constitution forbids the state from withholding a person from enjoying liberty and life or searching for and finding safety and happiness. The judge wrote,
“This court cannot imagine a right more basic, more private or more integral to the safety, happiness and liberty of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.”
This ruling prohibits doctors who provide assistance from being prosecuted under the state’s assisted suicide law. The New Mexico assisted suicide law 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.
An end-of-life choice advocacy group, ACLU and Compassion & Choices, filed the lawsuit on behalf of cancer patient Aja Riggs and two New Mexico doctors. Riggs has advanced uterine cancer and as a result of her illness she had to undergo aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She remembers vividly all of the medication, fatigue, her skin burning and the nausea. She said things as simple as talking required too much energy.
The only thing this Santa Fe resident said she wanted was the option of ending her life if the suffering ever became too excessive.
The judge was asked to give thought to whether or not doctors should be allowed to help a terminally ill cancer patient by writing a prescription if they wanted to use drugs to end their life. Judge Nash ruled in favor.
The judge’s ruling stems from a two-day bench trial where Riggs and others asked the judge to conclude that doctors would not be breaking any laws if they wrote prescriptions for terminally ill, but competent, patients who didn’t want to suffer any longer. Doctor Aroop Mangalik and Doctor Katherine Morris filed their lawsuit in March 2012 and Riggs joined the fight for her rights a few months later.
Riggs said during her testimony that her cancer was in remission and she wants to live but also desires the option of another choice should her cancer return and her condition worsen. She explained how hard it was at times just to get out of bed and walking just 15 feet was a battle. If this were to progress any worse than this she wanted to be able to end her life with dignity and not suffer needlessly during her final days.
New Mexico will be the fifth state to allow patients to seek help taking their own lives if their illness becomes unbearable. This practice has been aggressively debated since Oregon first adopted it in 1997. Most other states have banned assisted suicide but Vermont, Washington, Montana and now New Mexico have joined Oregon and will permit aid-in-dying.
The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops was not pleased with the ruling. They feel there is a difference between the ability of a person to take someone else’s life and the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
Executive director for the group of Bishops, Allen Sanchez, said this is too risky because of differing opinions with regard to a person’s ability to survive an illness along with the advancement of medical treatments. Sanchez feels as long as there is a chance for human error we can’t really make that call.
He said once the decision is made it can’t be reversed, it’s final. That’s a big concern for the Bishops. Sanchez said they should not be willing to give a doctor and two witnesses that ability if they won’t allow a judge and jury to do the same by getting rid of the death penalty in New Mexico.
On Monday a new ruling gave doctors permission to assist terminally ill patients with committing suicide in New Mexico. Doctors can now write a prescription for anyone who wants to end their suffering by taking their own life before their condition becomes too unbearable.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)