August 12, 2015

Court of Appeals reverses district court decision on ‘aid in dying’

Joe Gratz


A state appeals court ruled that there is no right to “aid in dying” in New Mexico, reversing a district court decision.

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz cc

Joe Gratz

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz cc

The New Mexico Court of Appeals filed the split ruling on Tuesday after oral arguments in January. At issue is whether a 1963 law that makes it a fourth degree felony for  “assisting suicide” is constitutional.

“We conclude that aid in dying is not a fundamental liberty interest under the New Mexico Constitution,” the opinion on Morris v. King states. The opinion allows the state to continue enforcing the law against aiding in dying.

The full ruling is available below.

A district court judge in Bernalillo County ruled in January of 2014 that there was a right  for physicians to aid in dying in New Mexico. That received national attention as part of a push nationwide to allow those who are terminally ill to end their lives.

The next likely step is the state Supreme Court, which would likely make the final determination on the constitutionality of the law.

Laura Schauer Ives of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico argued the decision in court and said in a state after the decision that she was “disappointed” in the court ruling.

“We believe we have a strong case moving forward, and will be applying for cert in the New Mexico Supreme court where they will hopefully agree that mentally competent, terminally ill patients have the right to seek physician aid in dying if their suffering becomes unbearable,” Schauer Ives said.

The office of the Attorney General argued that this was something that should be handled by statute and the state legislature.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group that filed a friend of the court brief with the state, hailed the decision.

“New Mexico law clearly criminalizes deliberate assistance in someone else’s suicide,” Alliance Defending Freedom Litigation Counsel Catherine Glenn Foster said in a statement. “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.”

The decision by the Court of Appeals means aid in dying is now legal in four states. Washington, Oregon and Vermont have the laws on the books, while a Montana Supreme Court decision allows it in the state. Hawaii has no law either way on the issue.

Court of Appeals Decision Morris v King