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Death aid case appeal possible

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Attorney General Gary King says he’s interested in appealing the order of an Albuquerque district judge last week barring prosecution of physicians for aiding terminally ill patients with assisted suicide.

KING: Attorney general might appeal ABQ ruling

KING: Attorney general might appeal ABQ ruling

“My own personal opinion as the attorney general is that it’s good to get the law settled in cases like this where there’s some controversy,” King told the Journal. “If we don’t, I would expect there would be a case filed in another district.”… (We’re) trying to make sure all of our government officials understand what their obligations are. There might be a real strong reason to appeal it just because of that.”

Allen Sanchez, a spokesman for the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Catholic leaders were pleased to learn King was weighing an appeal. The church has voiced strong opposition to aid-in-dying policies, with particular concern about potential human error in identifying patients who are truly terminally ill and ensuring patients are competent to make the choice.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan on Wednesday reiterated his concern at a breakfast meeting with dozens of legislators in Santa Fe.

“The church teaches that life is sacred from conception through to natural death,” Sheehan was quoted as saying in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

“… This assisted suicide thing concerns me,” he said. “I foresee dangerous consequences.”

State District Judge Nan Nash of Albuquerque on Jan. 13 ruled that Drs. Katherine Morris and Aroop Mangalik, both University of New Mexico oncologists, could not face criminal charges for violating the state’s assisting-suicide prohibition because aid to terminally ill patients should be constitutionally protected.

“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,” Nash wrote.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and a national advocacy group for aid in dying, Compassion and Choices, on behalf of Aja Riggs, a Santa Fe woman who has uterine cancer that now is in remission.

King stopped short of saying his office would appeal. He said a broader review is necessary before his office commits to taking the case before the New Mexico Court of Appeals, where a ruling would establish statewide precedent on the issue of assisted suicide in New Mexico.

Compassion and Choices spokeswoman Erin Marshall said the group is prepared to defend the District Court’s ruling on appeal.

“We agree with Judge Nash’s finding that aid in dying is a constitutional right in New Mexico, and we believe her ruling will be confirmed on appeal,” Marshall said in a statement.

Aid-in-dying laws have been established in at least three other states: Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

The attorney general said Thursday that he feels the issue would best be settled in the Legislature, where previously efforts to establish aid-in-dying laws have failed to clear committee.

If an appeal goes forward, “one of our arguments will be that this is one of those policy issues that should be decided by the Legislature,” King said.

King said he’s received a significant amount of input from a variety of groups, including Catholic leaders, on the issue of a potential appeal of the District Court’s assisted suicide ruling.

“I think because this case is one that’s on the top of everyone’s mind,” King said.

He said the final decision about whether to pursue an appeal likely would be made over the next few weeks.


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