N.M. Assisted Suicide Bill Defeated

By Dave Andrusko

Anti-assisted forces secured a major win yesterday when a bill, heavily promoted by Democrats, went down to defeat in the New Mexico state Senate on a vote of 22-20.

The coalition that defeated Senate Bill 252 included the Catholic Church, Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to defeat the bill.

The bill, according to critics, was a “signature” issue for Democrats who control both houses of the state legislature and would have allowed doctors to “assist” in a suicide. The measure had passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee on March 3. The defeat in the Senate means that aiding such deaths remains a fourth-degree felony.

As NRL News Today reported, last June the New Mexico, Supreme Court unanimously upheld an appeals court decision which ruled that Bernalillo County District Court Judge Nan Nash had erred in 2014 when she struck the decades-old New Mexico Assisted Suicide law which protected the state’s citizens from assisted suicide.

“If we were to recognize an absolute, fundamental right to physician aid in dying, constitutional questions would abound regarding legislation that defined terminal illness or provided for protective procedures to assure that a patient was making an informed and independent decision,” Justice Edward Chavez wrote for the court.

Justice Chavez was joined by Justices Barbara Vigil, Petra Jimenez Maes, Chief Justice Charles Daniels, and Fifth Judicial District Judge James Hudson of Roswell who was designated because Justice Richard Bosson had announced his retirement when the case was submitted.

The justices were clearly receptive to the case presented at oral arguments by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office –that the final decision on the legality of the assisted suicide belonged not with the courts but with state lawmakers.

In January 2014 Judge Nash, ruling in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of New Mexico and Compassion & Choices, concluded that that killing a terminally ill patient with that person’s consent is a “fundamental right” under the state constitution. As NRL News Today reported, Judge Nash asserted in her 14-page opinion that prescribing lethal drugs to a patient, or as she defines it, “aid in dying,” is merely another type of medical treatment.

In August 2015, the New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned Judge Nash in a stinging 142-page decision. The three-member panel concluded that Judge Nash had erred in concluding that “aid in dying is a fundamental liberty interest.”

“We are not persuaded by Plaintiffs’ position that a modern desire to hasten death under the rubric of medical privacy can be inferred to take priority over the express fundamental interest in life,” it concluded. “Any development of the importance that society may eventually attribute to dying with autonomy and dignity remains inferential and secondary to life…”

Judge Timothy Garcia added, “At its core, aid in dying challenges the longstanding and historic interest in the protection of life until its natural end as well as the equally longstanding prohibition against assisting another in hastening that process.” Further, “This treasured right to life is not only considered sacred under the common law but is also recognized as an inalienable right, even for those condemned to death.”

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