Saturday, September 23, 2023
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Assisted Death Argued at N.M. Supreme Court

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) - "What interest does the state really have in preventing someone from dying peacefully?" New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez asked Monday during a hearing on the legality of doctors providing aid in dying to terminally ill patients.

When two Albuquerque oncologists and a patient fighting uterine cancer challenged the New Mexico Assisted Suicide Statute in 2012, a Bernalillo County judge found that the law making it a fourth-degree felony to help someone die violated a terminally ill, mentally competent patient's "fundamental right to choose aid in dying."

Drs. Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik and their patient Aja Riggs filed the lawsuit. A divided opinion by the state court of appeals reversed in August this year, paving the way for the Monday hearing at the state supreme court.

The justices closely questioned ACLU attorney Laura Schauer Ives about whether patients might choose assisted suicide for financial reasons, and about the importance of a patient's ability to self-administer a lethal dose, and - in apparent sympathy with her clients -whether it is fair to deny aid in dying to people who are paralyzed or otherwise unable to take medication without assistance.

"What right does the state have to criminalize this process?" Ives asked.

Scott Fuqua argued for the New Mexico Attorney General that it is for the Legislature, not the courts, to decide the issue.

Fuqua said there is a profound difference between someone choosing to end his or her life and enlisting the aid of a third party to help.

Under questioning by the justices, Fuqua said no one has been prosecuted in New Mexico under the Assisted Suicide Statute, and that while the right to die is an important one, there is no basis to call aid in dying a fundamental right under the New Mexico Constitution.Patients' rights advocates and reporters filled the courtroom and overflowed into the courthouse law library.

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