New Mexico judge rules terminally ill patients may seek 'aid in dying'

[JURIST] Judge Nan Nash of the New Mexico Second Judicial District Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that patients who are terminally ill and mentally competent have the right to seek aid in dying under the state constitution. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the advocacy group Compassion & Choices [advocacy website] on behalf of two doctors and a terminally ill cancer patient against the District Attorney for the Second Judicial District, Kari Brandenberg [official website], and the Attorney General for the state of New Mexico, Gary King [official website]. The ruling comes after a two-day bench trial held in December, where plaintiffs argued that doctors in New Mexico should be permitted to write prescriptions for terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives. The 50-year-old patient in this case is suffering from advanced uterine cancer. In the opinion, Nash highlighted the importance of upholding New Mexico's constitutional commitment to the advancement of life, liberty, safety and happiness, stating, "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." As a consequence of the ruling, the court granted plaintiffs the requested injunctive relief prohibiting defendants from prosecuting physicians who provide aid in dying. The attorney general's office announced [CNN report] that it will analyze the decision to see if it will file an appeal.

Monday's ruling makes New Mexico the fifth state in the US to allow the practice of aid in dying for terminally ill patients, and the issue of one's right to die [JURIST news archive] has garnered attention both in the US and around the world in recent years. An October ruling from the Court of Appeal for British Columbia upheld Canada's law [JURIST report] against doctor-assisted suicide, which has invigorated the debate [JURIST op-ed] surrounding the right to die. In May the governor of Vermont signed [JURIST report] signed the "Death With Dignity" bill into law. Also last spring the Republic of Ireland rejected an appeal [JURIST report] by a paralyzed woman seeking to allow her partner to aid in her suicide. In 2010 the Montana high court ruled [JURIST report] physician assisted suicide is not banned by state law.

 

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