SANTA FE, NM—Today, in Morris v. New Mexico, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in against terminally ill New Mexican patients who were seeking to bring about a peaceful death when their suffering becomes unbearable. The lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and leading patient rights litigator Kathryn Tucker of the Disability Rights Legal Center, on behalf of two Albuquerque oncologists, Dr. Katherine Morris and Dr. Aroop Mangalik, and Aja Riggs, a cancer patient living in Santa Fe. In 2014, following trial, the New Mexico 2nd District Court ruled that aid in dying is a fundamental right protected by the New Mexico State Constitution. In August 2015, the New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned the district court ruling in a split decision.
 
“This is truly tragic news for the terminally ill New Mexicans who now face the prospect of a difficult death without the option of physician aid in dying,” said ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorney Laura Schauer Ives. “From the very beginning this case has been about giving people more options and control at the end of life, and we are deeply disappointed that the courts have decided against allowing doctors to care for their patients in this way. Though we have always held the position that the courts were the most appropriate avenue for deciding this issue, we note that the New Mexico Supreme Court believes this matter is ripe for legislative action. We call on our state legislature to extend this compassionate care as an option for terminally ill New Mexicans.”
 
Aid in dying is widely supported in New Mexico, with a 2012 poll showing that two out of three New Mexico voters (65%) believe it should be available. More recent national polls show that three out of four (74%) Americans support access to aid in dying as do the majority of doctors (54%). It is available by statute in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and most recently California, and it is protected by court decision, in a case handled by Ms. Tucker, in Montana. Cases similar to the one decided today are pending in California and New York with Ms. Tucker as co-counsel.
 
“The choice of a dying patient for a peaceful death through aid in dying has been a safe, compassionate, and widely-accepted medical practice for almost twenty years now,” said DRLC Legal Director Kathryn Tucker. “Though this ruling is a setback for aid in dying in New Mexico, the tide of public support is clearly in favor of making this compassionate care available to terminally ill patients. A strong majority of New Mexicans support aid in dying, and we are confident that their will ultimately prevail.”
 
“I know that for many of my patients, this news will be heartbreaking.” said physician plaintiff Dr. Morris, who previously practiced medicine in Oregon where aid in dying has been legal for nearly two decades. “For many of my patients, just knowing that they can choose not to go to the very bitter end of a terminal illness provides them a tremendous amount of comfort. I hope that the New Mexico Legislature will provide them that peace of mind.”
 
Read a copy of the court's ruling here: http://www.nmcompcomm.us/nmcases/nmsc/slips/SC35,478.pdf
 
CONTACT:
Micah McCoy, (505) 266-5915 x1003 or mmccoy@aclu-nm.org
Stacia Wetherington, Stacia.Wetherington@drlcenter.org

 

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