The New Mexico Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling on Tuesday that had created a right for doctors to help terminally ill patients die.
Siding with the state’s attorney general, the appeals court ruled against physician-assisted suicide, and said, “[A]id in dying is not a fundamental liberty interest under the New Mexico Constitution.”
The ruling struck down a decision made by the Bernalillo County District Court, which determined, “aid in dying is a fundamental liberty interest.”
Plaintiffs in the case, Morris v. King, were two doctors from the University of New Mexico. The doctors argued they should be allowed to prescribe their patient, Aja Riggs, a lethal dose of life-ending medication to allow her to die.
Riggs was diagnosed with “life threatening uterine cancer,” according to court documents, and testified that she did not know if she “want[ed] to go all the way to the end” of her illness with everybody that cares about her “just wanting for me to die.”
Powerful groups such as the ACLU of New Mexico backed their case.
The lawsuit defines physician-assisted suicide as the “practice of a physician providing a mentally competent, terminally ill patient with a prescription for [a lethal dose of] medication which the patient may choose to ingest to achieve a peaceful death and thereby avoid further suffering.”
One of the plaintiffs, Dr. Katherine Morris, is a surgical oncologist who previously practiced medicine in Oregon, which is one of three states where assisted suicide is legal. Assisted suicide is also allowed in Washington and Vermont, and has been judicially recognized in Montana.
After the New Mexico Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling on Tuesday, an attorney for Riggs and the two doctors said she plans to appeal the case to the U.S Supreme Court.
In its opinion, the appeals court recognized the possibility of the Supreme Court taking on this case or another like it, and said:
“It goes without saying that our Supreme Court will have the final word. But it does not follow that this Court must remain mute until it does.”