August 19, 2015

State Supreme Court asked to rule on ‘aid in dying’ case

Joe Gratz


The New Mexico Supreme Court could decide once and for all if a law that forbids anyone to assist in ending the life of a terminally ill patient is legal.

gavel on stack of documentsThe American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Disability Rights Legal Center asked the state’s high court for an expedited review of the case. The move comes just one week after the state Court of Appeals ruled on the case, reversing a District Court decision that said there was a right to “aid in dying” in New Mexico.

The writ says the court must decide “one of the most private, intimate decisions made in a lifetime—how we face our own deaths.”

The full request is available at the bottom of this post.

“The Court of Appeals’ opinion takes away a fundamental right from terminally ill patients,” said ACLU-NM cooperating attorney Laura Schauer Ives in a statement. “Today, we are asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to immediately review this decision and restore the right for terminally ill patients to self-administer a medication that will help them achieve a peaceful death.”

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,” Schauer Ives continued.

An affidavit from Albuquerque resident Susan Brown, who suffers from terminal cancer, supports the move, as does Native American artist David Bradley of Santa Fe, who was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The writ notes that Brown has an estimated six months or less to live, saying this is one reason why a speedy hearing is needed.

The Court of Appeals found that there is no right to aid in dying in New Mexico, agreeing with the state in saying it is something that should be dealt with statutorily and not through the courts.

“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.

Schauer Ives indicated at the time that they would appeal the decision.

At issue is whether or not a 1963 law that makes it a fourth degree felony for “assisting suicide” is constitutional in New Mexico.

Washington, Oregon and Vermont have the laws on the books allowing the terminally ill to end their lives, while a Montana Supreme Court decision allows the practice in the state. Hawaii has no law either way on the issue.

Morris Writ Endorsed No Signature 08-19-15