New Mexico State law provides a fundamental right to a terminally ill, competent patient to choose a physician’s aid in getting prescription medications that will allow a peaceful death, a state judge ruled Monday in a seminal case. Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash said doctors. Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik, both oncologists at the University of New Mexico Hospital, could not be prosecuted under the state’s Assisted Suicide Statute, which is defined as the act of “deliberately aiding another in the taking of his own life.”
The practice recognizes that the patient is dying from his or her underlying disease and allows the patient to have medication, usually sedatives, that may be taken at a time of the patient’s choosing to achieve a peaceful death. Patients who most often choose the option are those dying of cancer.
Nash found that the right exists under the New Mexico Constitution, which prohibits the state from depriving a person of life, liberty or property without due process. Nash’s ruling comes after a two-day bench trial in December that included testimony from practitioners in other states where aid in dying is legally available.
Morris and Mangalik both have previously practised in Oregon, which has two decades of experience with aid in dying. Morris testified about her previous experience there, and plaintiff Aja Riggs of Santa Fe, who has uterine cancer, testified about her desire to have peace of mind about her options.
Oregon, Washington and Vermont have explicitly authorized the practice. Montana made it legal after a decision by its state supreme court. And in Hawaii, there is no criminal prosecution for assisted suicide.