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14 Jan, 2014 19:39

New Mexico judge rules assisted suicide a 'fundamental right'

New Mexico judge rules assisted suicide a 'fundamental right'

New Mexico is set to become the fifth US state where doctors are allowed to aid the death of terminally ill patients after a landmark court ruling.

“This court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying,” Judge Nan G. Nash of the Second District Court in Albuquerque wrote in her ruling.

"If decisions made in the shadow of one's imminent death regarding how they and their loved ones will face that death are not fundamental and at the core of these constitutional guarantees, than what decisions are?"

The decision came after a two-day hearing of a case brought by two doctors on behalf of Aja Riggs, a 49-year-old uterine cancer patient, who is currently in remission, but wants a lethal injection if her condition worsens.

“I don’t want to suffer needlessly at the end,” Riggs told the court during one of the sessions.

As of now, assisting a suicide within state borders is a fourth-degree felony, and could lead to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000, according to a law passed in 1963.

Aja Riggs, the cancer sufferer at the heart of the case (Screenshot from youtube.com @CompassionChoicesNM)

The plaintiffs, supported by nationwide advocacy groups, argued that the law did not apply to medical conditions.

The judge rejected the argument, but agreed that the ability to end one’s life as desired was a “fundamental right.”

It is not clear if the ruling will apply statewide, or just to the district where it was announced, and New Mexico’s state attorney’s office is considering appealing the judge’s decision.

If New Mexico does allow doctor-assisted suicide, it will follow the trail pioneered by Oregon in 1997, and since followed by Washington, Vermont and Montana.

Despite fears that the assisted suicide law would be used ubiquitously and indiscriminately, facts do not appear to bear this out.

Statistics from 2012, the latest available from Oregon, show that only 77 people chose physician assisted death, or 0.2 percent of the total. All but two of them had been in a hospice when they had made the decision.