US state judge: Doctors can aid in dying (Update)

January 13, 2014 by Susan Montoya Bryan

Competent, terminally 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," Nash wrote.

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.

Nash's decision 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 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 initially filed their lawsuit in March 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 different.

Riggs, a 49-year-old Santa Fe resident who has undergone aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment, testified in December that her cancer was in remission but there have been days when getting out of bed and walking 15 feet (five meters) were an uphill battle.

Riggs said she wanted to live, but she also wanted the option of dying if her condition worsened.

"I don't want to suffer needlessly at the end," she told Nash.

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.

Five states, including Oregon, allow patients to seek aid in dying if their conditions become unbearable, she said.

Explore further: Trial over New Mexico 'right-to-die' law to begin

Related Stories

Trial over New Mexico 'right-to-die' law to begin

December 9, 2013
A legal challenge to a decades-old New Mexico law that prohibits physicians from helping terminally ill patients die is set to go to trial.

Canada upholds law against assisted suicide (Update)

October 10, 2013
British Columbia's appeals court overturned a lower court ruling Thursday that found Canada's law against physician-assisted suicide to be unconstitutional.

Tribunals needed for assisted suicide in the UK

November 8, 2013
A new tribunal-style system to provide sympathetic and speedy consideration for each and every terminally-ill patient who wishes to end their lives is needed according to Claudia Carr, from the University of Hertfordshire's ...

Assisted suicide on agenda in several US states (Update)

February 8, 2013
(AP)—A push for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide is under way in a half-dozen U.S. states where proponents say they see strong support for allowing doctors to prescribe mentally competent, dying individuals ...

Vermont becomes third US state to legalize assisted suicide

May 20, 2013
Vermont became on Monday the third US state to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Charges thrown out against US right-to-die leader

March 23, 2013
(AP)—A judge dismissed charges against the former leader of a U.S. right-to-die group accused in the death of a Minnesota woman, ruling that the state law against advising suicide is unconstitutionally overbroad.

Recommended for you

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

Best of Last Year – The top Medical Xpress articles of 2016

December 23, 2016
(Medical Xpress)—It was a big year for research involving overall health issues, starting with a team led by researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health who unearthed more evidence that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.