Right to Die Gets Debated
Physician-assisted deaths case heads to New Mexico Supreme CourtLocal NewsTuesday, September 1, 2015
The “aid in dying” case to allow a physician to aid terminally ill patients in choosing to end their own lives will be heard in New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 26, a court spokesman says today.
A district court judge ruled in January 2014 that allowing such aid to the dying was a fundamental liberty, and physicians providing lethal doses of prescribed medications at the request of a mentally competent patient should be excluded from existing statute that makes assisting suicide a fourth degree felony. On Aug. 11, the New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned that decision.
“We conclude that aid in dying is not a fundamental liberty interest under the New Mexico Constitution,” the appeals court opinion reads. Palliative sedation—administering such high levels of conscious-lowering medications that the patient not only goes into a coma but is likely to die shortly after—and withdrawing life-sustaining treatments are both accepted medical procedures in the state.
New Mexico would follow Oregon, Washington, Montana, Hawaii and Vermont in allowing such procedures. Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Rhode Island and California have declared the procedure illegal.
Aja Riggs, a Santa Fe resident with uterine cancer, is also listed as a plaintiff, and testified to the Appeals Court that she hoped to have the option of aid in dying as a means of avoiding spending her final days bedridden, in pain and mostly unconscious.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court to expedite review of the case.
“The Court of Appeals’ Opinion takes away a fundamental right from terminally ill patients,” Laura Schauer Ives, cooperating attorney with ACLU-NM, said in a press release. “Without a speedy, definitive resolution to this matter, terminally ill New Mexicans risk becoming trapped in a dying process they find unbearable; they deserve better.”
Along with their petition they filed statements from terminally ill patients who support the case, an Albuquerque woman who watched her mother labor through final months of her life unable to tend to her own most basic needs and in tremendous pain. After her own fight with cancer and receiving a diagnosis of six months to live in July, Susan Brown wants to have the option to choose death on her own terms, in the event her own pain becomes unbearable.
Santa Fe artist David Bradley was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which often ends in nervous system and muscle weakness so profound the diaphragm and lungs stop working and suffocation follows.
“One of my worst fears is ending up in a hospital, nearly a vegetable, with all kinds of tubes in me keeping me alive against my wishes while my family stands by in anguish,” he wrote in his statement given to the ACLU. “As an independent artist, I have always lived my life on my own terms guided by my strong principles. I want that to be true in my final days as well. When I die, I want to experience a peaceful death, at home, surrounded by my loved ones.”