A New Mexico judge says residents have the right to “aid in dying” through lethal prescriptions from doctors, despite a long-standing state law banning assisted suicide, but critics say the “terminally ill” standard sets a dangerous precedent that could be loosely applied to “a huge group of people.”
In a landmark decision Monday, Second District Court Judge Nan G. Nash sided with plaintiffs from the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, of New Mexico and Compassion and Choices, who argued that terminally ill patients have the right to receive deadly drug doses so long as they consent. Nash ruled that such prescriptions constitute nothing more than another type of medical treatment.
Jennifer Popik of the National Right to Life Committee’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics told WND this is nothing more than torturing the English language to get around the law.
“New Mexico has made it a crime since the late 1950s to assist in a suicide. Assisting suicide is a fourth-degree felony in the state of New Mexico,” Popik said. “What they got this judge to do was not to find there’s an inherent right to assisted suicide but somehow that this ‘aid in dying’ at the end of life does not fit the definition of what the legislature intended.”
Listen to WND’s interview with Popik below:
So what’s the supposed difference between assisted suicide and “aid in dying”? Popik said that’s very unclear.
“What everybody talks about, and what this judge talks about, is the provision of a lethal prescription to a terminally ill, competent patient. The problem is, in this ruling, that these things aren’t defined in any sort of meaningful way,” said Popik, who explained that the diagnosis of someone being terminally ill is far more broad than most people realize.
“In legislature after legislature, it’s a difficult term to enforce, so people typically think of it as having six months to live or something like that. But nowhere in this decision is any guidance given,” Popik said. “A terminal condition, typically when defined in state statutes, and New Mexico is like this also, means that anybody who doesn’t get treatment that might die within six months. Taken to its logical conclusion, that could be an insulin-dependent diabetic. If there is somebody who does not take medication and does not seek treatment within six months, they could die.
“So this definition of terminally ill patients is going to incorporate a huge group of people,” she said.
The case for allowing patients to seek a premature end to their lives is often rooted in the libertarian argument that Americans of sound mind should have the power to make their own decisions, including the choice to end their lives. Popik said that’s flawed logic.
“We don’t solve problems by killing the patient to whom the problem exists for. It’s often couched as an argument of autonomy. This is a person’s freely chosen right. But we have so much evidence out there that people that are seeking suicide typically suffer from some diagnosable depression or other mental illness. These are people that are facing a tough diagnosis. They’re probably, and very understandably, suffering from some kind of depression related to it.
“We don’t help this group of people just because they’re sick? I think anyone would look at an 18 or a 22-year-old who had just been through a break-up or a young mother who might be suffering from postpartum depression. They might be saying, ‘I want to kill myself.’ That’s not what we would recognize as a freely chosen decision. At National Right to Life, we think it’s a problem that just because somebody is sick or has a low quality of life as the rest of us would perceive it, we don’t look at that person and see that ask for suicide as the cry for help that it might be,” she said.
The states of Oregon, Washington and Vermont have affirmatively legalized assisted suicide. Montana is in a bit of legal limbo on the issue, and New Mexico’s case will undoubtedly be heard on appeal. Popik said groups like Compassion and Choices are regularly pushing for states to move toward assisted suicide, but she does not see a national wave of momentum for that cause.
She remains optimistic that Judge Nash’s decision will be overturned as a result of the strained logic in getting around a long-standing law.
“It’s pretty clear that when the legislature in New Mexico … makes assisting suicide legal that this is precisely what they contemplated. They contemplated this sort of situation where a doctor with no real guidelines and nobody looking at the situation, nobody seeing if the person is competent, nobody seeing if the person is suffering from dementia, nobody seeing if it’s someone pushing someone who might be suicidal.
“The notion is, we do not want people assisting in suicides. The New Mexico legislature has decided this and considered it on multiple other occasions. There’s been bills over the years in New Mexico to try to loosen up this law and the legislature considered it and they said no.”