The New Mexico Court of Appeals handed a defeat to the right-to-die movement Tuesday by striking down a lower-court ruling establishing physician-assisted suicide.
The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the district court had erred when it determined that “aid in dying is a fundamental liberty interest.”
“We conclude that aid in dying is not a fundamental liberty interest under the New Mexico Constitution,” said Judge Timothy L. Garcia in the majority opinion.
Catherine Glenn Foster, Alliance Defending Freedom litigation counsel, praised the court’s decision to reverse the two-year-old Bernalillo County District Court decision.
“Suffering patients need compassionate care and quality medical treatment, not encouragement to commit suicide – and especially not through doctors who pledge to ‘do no harm,’” said Ms. Foster in a statement.
“New Mexico law clearly criminalizes deliberate assistance in someone else’s suicide,” she said. “The court was right to reverse the lower court’s decision which invented a right to doctor-prescribed death that does not exist. Families will now have the opportunity to honor and cherish their loved ones in their final days.”
Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Vermont and Washington, and Montana courts have recognized it as a valid defense for homicide charges.
The New Mexico lower court ruled in January 2013 that a 1963 state law making assisted suicide a fourth-degree felony in the state was invalid as it applied to doctors who administer a lethal dose of medication to medically competent, terminally ill patients.
Former New Mexico Attorney General Gary King filed the appeal, arguing that the right-to-die issue should be decided by the state legislature and not the court, while the New Mexico ACLU supported the lower court’s decision.
The case involved two University of New Mexico doctors treating a patient, Aja Riggs, with terminal uterine cancer. The physicians filed suit seeking a declaration that they would not be prosecuted for assisting in the patient’s death.
In her dissent, Judge Linda M. Vanzi said, “I conclude that, although the State’s interests in preserving life and preventing suicide may be compelling or substantial in the abstract, these broadly stated general interests are insufficient to justify infringing the right to aid in dying.”
Ms. Riggs, 51, told the Albuquerque Journal in January that her cancer is in remission.