End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

New Mexico News

Statement on New Mexico Court Ruling Affirming Right to Aid in Dying from Mark Dann of Compassion & Choices New Jersey

Statement from Mark Dann, Compassion & Choices New Jersey Campaign Director:

“We applaud yesterday’s ruling by the New Mexico court that terminally ill adults have a state constitutional right to aid in dying. The decision could grant hundreds of patients and families the liberty, choice and comfort to make the most personal of end-of-life decisions.

We are particularly encouraged by Judge Nan Nash’s opinion, which states, ‘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.’

This ruling adds national momentum behind expanding end-of-life choice around the country.  Last summer, Vermont passed death-with-dignity legislation, becoming the fourth state in the nation to permit aid in dying.  The New Mexico court decision provides further support and legal standing to advance death-with-dignity legislation in New Jersey.”

About Compassion & Choices

Compassion & Choices is the oldest and largest national non-profit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. To learn more about Compassion & Choices visitwww.compassionandchoices.org.

Learn more about the January 13, 2014 New Mexico court ruling in the press release.


Statement from Compassion & Choices Massachusetts on New Mexico Court Ruling that Aid in Dying is a Fundamental Right

January 14, 2014 (Boston, MA) – “We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision to allow physicians and individuals options for aid in dying when terminally ill. The New Mexico court ruling is part of the national momentum moving choice at the end of life forward, one state at a time. Last summer, Vermont passed a comprehensive law legalizing aid in dying. This ruling now provides further support and legal standing to advance this issue forward in Massachusetts.”

– Marie Manis, State Director for Compassion & Choices Massachusetts

To read more about this news, click on today’s Associated Press story: New Mexico Right To Die Case: Ruling Will Allow Doctors To Help Terminally Ill Patients End Their Lives. “New Mexico Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash ruled Monday, Jan 13, 2014, that the ability of competent, terminally ill patients to choose aid in dying is a fundamental right under the state Constitution.”

Click here to read the Press Release on the ruling from Compassion & Choices.

Compassion & Choices is a national nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. We support, educate and advocate. www.compassionandchoices.org.

Court Rules Aid in Dying Is a Fundamental Right Under NM Constitution

Landmark Case May Set Precedent for Challenging “Assisted Suicide” Laws in Other States

(Albuquerque, N.M. – January 13, 2014) New Mexico Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash today issued a landmark decision that terminally ill, mentally competent patients have a fundamental right to aid in dying under the substantive due process clause of the New Mexico State Constitution. This ruling protects the medical practice from prosecution in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. If affirmed, the ruling will impact the entire state.

Judge Nash explained her ruling as follows:

“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. If decisions made in the shadow of one’s imminent death regarding how they and their loved ones will face that death are not fundamental and at the core of these constitutional guarantees, than [sic] what decisions are? … The Court therefore declares that the liberty, safety and happiness interest of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying is a fundamental right under our New Mexico Constitution.”

Nash’s ruling followed two days of trial testimony on Dec. 11-12 in a suit, Morris v. New Mexico, filed in the state’s Second Judicial District Court by the ACLU of New Mexico and Compassion & Choices on behalf of two physicians and a cancer patient. More

Landmark Trial Could Establish Physician Aid in Dying in New Mexico

Morris v. New Mexico trial team

Compassion & Choices and the ACLU of New Mexico today concluded arguments in a landmark trial seeking to establish that aid in dying is legal in New Mexico. Morris v. New Mexico is a test case, bringing before a court for the first time the claim that ambiguous state laws prohibiting “assisted suicide” do not apply to physicians who write aid-in-dying prescriptions to mentally competent, terminally ill adults.

The court accepted an amicus brief in the case filed by the New Mexico Psychological Association. It concludes that “the practice of good professional psychology in New Mexico requires that the law … recognize that aid in dying is not a form of suicide.” The trial included two days of testimony from patient and physician plaintiffs, and expert witnesses. The judge said she intends to rule on the case within 30 days.

Compassion & Choices Director of Legal Affairs and Advocacy Kathryn Tucker and ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives jointly represent the plaintiffs. Tucker was counsel in a somewhat similar Montana case in which the right to choose aid in dying was recognized, Baxter v. Montana.

“This case challenges the assumption that vague, antiquated prohibitions of assisted suicide pertain to aid in dying. The assumption is unfounded,” says Tucker. “Such laws are intended to prevent the impulsive act of an otherwise healthy person to end his life, perhaps due to situational depression, causing impaired judgment. The choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient to cut short suffering before death, when the patient finds the dying process unbearable, is fundamentally different and not addressed by such laws.” More

Associated Press Coverage of New Mexico Trial

Trial on assisted suicide law begins in New Mexico

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press  Twitter: @susanmbryanNM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Lawyers representing two doctors and a Santa Fe woman with advanced uterine cancer began their opening statement on Wednesday in a case challenging a decades-old New Mexico law that prohibits assisted suicide.
Cancer doctors Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik and patient Aja Riggs want a district court judge to clarify the law by ruling physicians who help competent, terminally ill patients end their lives are not in violation of the state’s assisted suicide law.

Currently, whoever assists with suicide can be found guilty of a fourth-degree felony under the statute in question.

“This is a case about choice,” Laura Schauer Ives, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, told Judge Nan Nash. “The evidence will show this is a safe choice. This is a compassionate choice.”

The lawsuit against the state has the support of the New Mexico Psychological Association, the largest organization of professional psychologists in the state. The group filed a brief Tuesday, arguing that assisted suicide and “aid in dying” for terminally ill patients are fundamentally different.

“We believe it is important that the law reflects this distinction so that doctors are not prevented from providing patients with more comfort and control during their dying process,” said Rob Schwartz, a University of New Mexico law professor and co-author of the brief.

Kathryn Tucker, director of legal affairs for Compassion & Choices, said there’s growing support for physicians to help terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.

Five states already allow patients to seek aid in dying if their condition becomes unbearable, she said.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Scott Fuqua countered that the case is about legal autonomy. The testimony of patients and doctors will be compelling, he said, but the result of “aid in dying” is the same as suicide in that a person’s life is being ended and that is a violation of the law crafted by state lawmakers.

There is no evidence that suggests the Legislature took an unconstitutional action, Fuqua said.

The trial in state District Court in Albuquerque was prompted by the lawsuit filed in March 2012 on behalf of plaintiffs by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Denver-based group Compassion & Choices.

Riggs, a 49-year-old Santa Fe resident who has undergone aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment, joined the lawsuit in May 2012. She said she doesn’t know if she would go through the process if New Mexico doctors are allowed to assist terminally ill patients in dying, but she wants to at least have the option.