SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) - A challenge by two oncologists and one patient to the ban against physician-assisted suicide in New Mexico goes before the state Supreme Court on Monday.
New Mexico adopted the law in question, Section 30-2-4, in 1963 - making it a fourth-degree felony to help others end their lives.
Though a Bernalillo County judge found that the law trampled a terminally ill, mentally competent patient's "fundamental right to choose aid in dying," a divided three-judge panel of the state court of appeals reversed in August.
In addition to Aja Riggs, a New Mexico woman fighting uterine cancer, the case at hand was brought by two oncologists, Katherine Morris, who also teaches at the University of New Mexico, and hematologist Aroop Mangalik.
They claimed that New Mexico should follow the steps of other states in letting doctors prescribe a lethal dose of medication so that a suffering but mentally competent patient can die peacefully.
New Mexico distinguishes such care from removing life support and palliative sedation, the legally permissible practice of removing a patient's nutrition and hydration from a sedated patient until death occurs.
Though the trial court found that New Mexico failed to prove a compelling interest in criminalizing aid in dying, the appellate majority said that the state Legislature's specific refusal to authorize assisted suicide invalidated the ruling.
California just became the fourth state - joining Oregon, Vermont and Washington - to adopt such a law. Montana has not affirmatively legalized aid in dying, but its state Supreme Court agreed in 2009 that "a terminally ill patient's consent to ... aid in dying constitutes a statutory defense to a charge of homicide."
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