A New Mexico judge was wrong to rule that there is a “right” to doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, a spokesman for the New Mexico Catholic bishops has said.
“What people have a right to is a right to good medicine and to a good doctor who helps them. We would never concede that there’s a right to take somebody’s life,” Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA Jan. 22.
He said a doctor is empowered by the state “to prescribe medicine” and not “to take life.”
Following a two-day trial, New Mexico Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash ruled on Jan. 13 that mentally competent patients who are terminally ill have the right to a doctor who will end their lives, CNN reports.
Nash lamented that the 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 mentally competent person to choose “aid in dying.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and Compassion & Choices, the organization once known as the Hemlock Society, had filed a lawsuit on behalf of two doctors and a 50-year-old cancer patient named Aja Riggs. She was seeking to legalize requests for lethal treatment.
The woman's cancer is now in remission, but she said it is likely to return.
Sanchez was critical of the judge’s decision.
“We are concerned about helping people dealing with pain and being merciful, but we are also concerned about protecting life,” he said.
He noted that the state legislature in 2009 abolished the death penalty on the grounds that errors in judgment could mean that an innocent person was wrongly condemned to die.
“That same argument applies here,” he said, noting that there can be errors in assessing whether a disease is terminal or whether a patient is mentally competent.
He added that the law permits relatives to serve as witnesses to a patient’s request for assisted suicide. This can create conflicts of interest in cases where relatives have an interest in seeing the terminally ill patient die.
Sanchez also said that there are religious reasons for opposing legalizing this form of suicide.
“One day that we take from a person’s life might be the day that they reconcile themselves with God, and none of us want to take that from anyone,” he said.
The states of Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont allow doctor-assisted suicide. In addition, the practice is legal is the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland. Each of these countries has seen a steady increase in assisted suicide cases in the years following its legalization.