Dr. Katherine Morris, Dr. Aroop Mangalik, and Aja Riggs (“Plaintiffs-Petitioners”) asked the District Court of Bernalillo County, New Mexico to find that medical aid in dying was not illegal in New Mexico, or, that if it was illegal, prosecution would be unconstitutional.
Dr. Morris had previously practiced medicine in Oregon, where she legally provided medical aid in dying to two patients under Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. Dr. Morris wanted to perform the practice in New Mexico. Like Dr. Morris, Dr. Mangalik also desired to provide medical aid in dying to his patients. Aja Riggs is a cancer patient whose cancer is in remission, but who wanted the “peace of mind” that medical aid in dying could provide her if her cancer were to come back and she was diagnosed as terminal.
The district court ruled that, while medical aid in dying is illegal, the prosecution of such an act would violate the New Mexico Constitution’s guarantees of “life, liberty, and seeking and obtaining happiness,” as well as its due process protections.
After the court’s decision, Kari Brandenburg, District Attorney for Bernalillo County, and Gary King, Attorney General (“Defendants-Respondents”), appealed the matter with the Court of Appeals of New Mexico. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision.
Compassion & Choices filed an Amicus Brief, arguing against the appeal and in favor of upholding the district court’s ruling.
Plaintiffs-Petitioners disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision and filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, escalating the matter to the New Mexico Supreme Court. On June 30, 2016, the court published its Opinion, affirming the Court of Appeals’ decision, and, unfortunately, preventing New Mexico citizens from having access to medical aid in dying.
While the Plaintiffs-Petitioners did not ultimately prevail on their legal claims, the lawsuit marked an important moment for New Mexicans fighting to access medical aid in dying. Nearly five years after the Supreme Court's decision, New Mexicans celebrated the legalization of medical aid in dying through the passage of the Elizabeth Whitfield End of Life Options Act.