Doctors in New Mexico are now allowed to prescribe medications to help terminally ill people commit suicide, the 2nd District Court in Albuquerque ruled Monday.
Judge Nan Nash's decision stems from a two-day bench trial in December in which two doctors and a Santa Fe woman with advanced uterine cancer asked the judge to determine that physicians would not be breaking the law if they wrote prescriptions for competent, terminally ill patients who wanted to end their lives.
Doctors Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik and patient Aja Riggs filed their lawsuit in 2012.
Under state law, assisting with suicide is a fourth-degree felony.
Arguing their case were the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Compassion & Choice, a national advocacy group. They asserted that a doctor's help for a competent, terminally ill patient who wished to hasten death was not covered by a 1960s state law making it a felony to assist a suicide.
But the state argued that such an action by a doctor was covered by the law and that banning doctor-assisted suicide was consistent with individual rights under the state Constitution.
The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
"This court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to liberty, safety, and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying," Nash wrote.
"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?" he added.
The New Mexico Attorney General's Office said it is discussing the possibility of an appeal but needs to analyze fully the judge's opinion before commenting further.
Doctor-assisted suicide is permitted in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.