(CN) - Terminally ill, competent patients in New Mexico have a constitutional right to have a doctor aid them in dying, a judge ruled.
The ACLU of New Mexico and nonprofit Compassion & Choices filed the lawsuit
on behalf of two doctors and Aja Riggs, a 50-year-old uterine cancer patient.
The lawsuit against Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sought to stop the criminal prosecution of doctors that aid patients in ending their lives.
Judge Nan Nash with the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque presided over the case's trial last month and granted the plaintiffs injunctive relief on Monday.
"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. "If decisions made in the shadow of one's imminent death regarding how they and their loved ones will face that death are not fundamental and at the core of these constitutional guarantees, than what decisions are?"
New Mexico's Assisted Suicide Statute provided that any help given to aid in someone's death would amount to a fourth-degree felony.
"New Mexicans, both healthy and sick, now enjoy the comfort and peace of mind that come with knowing they can prevent a prolonged, agonized dying process at the end of life," ACLU of New Mexico legal director Laura Schauer Ives said in a statement. "The court agreed that the New Mexico Constitution guarantees terminally ill patients they do not have to stay trapped in a dying process they find unbearable."
Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont are the only states that authorize doctor-assisted suicide. In Hawaii, there is no criminal prohibition against assisted suicide.