Monday, January 13, 2014

New Mexico Judge Finds State Constitutional Right to Aid-in-Dying

A judge in the New Mexico Second Judicial District Court (County of Bernalillo) has found that "the liberty, safety and happiness interest of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying is a fundamental right under [the Due Process clause of the] New Mexico Constitution." District Judge Nan G. Nash therefore found that the state's criminal law against assisting in suicide is unconstitutional insofar as it is applied to aid-in-dying for competent, terminally-ill patients. The court's order enjoins prosecution of physicians for aiding competent terminally-ill patients in dying. From the opinion:
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 what decisions are? As recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Cruzan “[t]he choice between life and death is a deeply personal decision of obvious and overwhelming finality.” Cruzan, 497 U.S. at 281.
The opinion in Morris v. New Mexico only affects prosecutions within Bernalillo County; it will not apply to the whole state unless it is affirmed on appeal by the state's Supreme Court.

The court explicitly declined to distinguish aid-in-dying from suicide: "Through the practice of aid in dying a physician deliberately aids the terminally ill patient in taking of his own life, bringing the practice of aid in dying within the definition of assisting suicide contained in [the criminal law]." But the court went on to find a constitutionally-protected right to suicide for competent, terminally-ill patients, and therefore invalidated the criminal law against assisted suicide insofar as it is applied to doctors assisting in the suicides of such patients.

The case was brought by the ACLU of New Mexico and Compassion & Choices on behalf of two physicians and a terminal cancer patient.

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