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Judge Will Allow Doctor-Assisted Deaths in New Mexico

Update Date: Jan 14, 2014 02:50 PM EST

New Mexico could be the fifth state within the United States to allow doctors to assist in ending the lives of terminally ill, but mentally competent patients. The decision was made by New Mexico's Second Judicial District Judge, Nan Nash during a two-day trial.

The two-day trial involved 49-year-old cancer patient, Aja Riggs, who stated that she did not want to suffer at the end. After Riggs asked for fatal drug prescriptions, which would be used to end her suffering, two doctors decided to bring her case to court seeking protection against prosecution if they acquiesced her request. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the national advocacy group, Compassion and Choices argued Riggs case before the court.

According to the two groups, a 1960s state law made it unclear whether or not it was a felony to help assist a terminally ill patient with suicide. Although the state argued that banning doctor-assisted suicides were in line with people's rights under the State Constitution, Judge Nash stated that choosing to die is also a fundamental right.

"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," wrote Judge Nan G. Nash of the Second District Court in Albuquerque according to CNN.

The attorney general's office is now currently reviewing the decision. The office has not appealed to the State Supreme Court. According to legal director of the civil liberties union, Laura S. Ives, it is still unclear whether or not the ruling applies to the entire state or just in Bernalillo County.

"I am really pleased that the court has recognized that terminally ill patients should have more choice in the manner of their death," said Riggs. "Most Americans want to die peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones, not die in agony in a hospital. I feel the same way. If my cancer returns and I face intolerable suffering, I want the option to cut it short, and to die peacefully at home."

Riggs' cancer is currently in remission. However, statistics reveal that her cancer will most likely return. Assisted suicides are currently allowed in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont. Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide with the "Death with Dignity Act" in 1997. This act required all patients to provide several oral and written statements regarding their conditions and desires. These steps had to be followed to make sure that the patient was terminally ill and mentally capable of choosing death.

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