New Mexico Attorney General Gary King is right to ask the state Court of Appeals to weigh in on a recent District Court ruling that bars prosecution of physicians if they assist terminally ill patients in dying.
In January, state District Judge Nan Nash of Albuquerque ruled the state’s Assisted Suicide statute, which prohibits such action, violates citizens’ constitutional rights. “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,” she said in the ruling.
Of course that is Nash’s interpretation of the Constitution, which doesn’t directly deal with the subject. Or perhaps her view of what the Constitution should say.
Nash’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group that has said it is willing to fight an appeal. It was filed on behalf of a Santa Fe woman who has uterine cancer that is in remission.
In filing the appeal, King says that if people want to change that law, the Legislature is the proper venue to make that change. He has said previous efforts to enact aid-in-dying laws have failed to clear committee.
King maintains it’s important to get the law settled in controversial cases. “If we don’t, I would expect there would be a case filed in another district,” he said previously. “(We’re) trying to make sure all of our government officials understand what their obligations are.”
Among concerns stated by opponents of aid in dying are possible human error in identifying patients who are truly terminally ill and ensuring patients are competent to make the decision and not under pressure.
This is an important issue that demands a clear statewide rule for physicians, patients and their families, instead of life-and-death decisions being made case by case, judge by judge. And, it’s an important separation of powers question. Who should legislate? Elected lawmakers or judges?
King is spot-on in seeking higher guidance for New Mexicans.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.