New Mexico ruling allows terminally ill patients to choose aid in dying

Terminally Ill Patients & Suicide

EL PASO, Texas - An Albuquerque-area judge has granted terminally ill, mentally competent patients the right to aid in dying.  

Judge Nan Nash ruled a due process clause in the New Mexico State Constitution authorizes it. Doctor Terry Meyer, who is part of the nonprofit group Compassion and Choices, and the American Civil Liberties Union New Mexico Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives explained the case.

The ruling in Morris v. New Mexico allows a physician to prescribe a terminally ill patient a medicine that would allow them to choose where and when they take their own life.

"This ruling will give terminally ill patients with difficulty controlling their pain another option," Meyer said. He's an associate medical director at Mesilla Valley Hospice in Las Cruces, N.M. He believes Monday's ruling is paving the way for what's previously been called assisted suicide but supporters now call aid in dying.

"She does know that she wants the choice if her dying process becomes unbearable to seek physician aid in dying," Schauer Ives said about the patient in the case, 49-year-old Aja Riggs who has advanced  uterine cancer.

The ACLU represented two physicians and who sued the state, seeking immunity from prosecution if they prescribed drugs that would allow Rigg to end her own life. Judge Nash ruled New Mexico's law against physician-assisted suicide applies, but she limited its application when the patient is terminal, mentally competent, but suffering.

"They're unable to read, they're unable to walk, they're unable to bathe themselves, they're unable to use the restroom on their own," Schauer Ives said.

The ruling to allow aid in dying gives a person to decide where to end their own life, such as the comfort of their home or a hospice center.

"They would like to have a medication that would allow them to die peacefully and quickly," Meyer said. To both Meyer and the ACLU, the ruling is all about choice. However, the decision is still subject to possible appeal by the state.

Doctor Meyer said anyone interested in learning more about death with dignity or Compassion and Choices may e-mail him at

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