'Right-to-die' trial begins

Updated: 12/11/2013 8:39 PM | Created: 12/11/2013 5:22 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A doctor and patient are suing the state for the right to “physician aid-in-dying” in New Mexico. It would allow doctors to prescribe pills that would speed up and ease the dying process.

It will be up to a judge to decide whether New Mexico becomes the fifth state in the nation to allow physician aid-in-dying. The plaintiffs claim they’re not asking for assisted suicide. Assisted suicide, right now, is a fourth degree felony in New Mexico. They claim physician aid-in-dying is something different.

A documentary plaintiffs showed in court followed a terminal cancer patient in Oregon who used physician aid-in-dying. When the patient’s body started failing rapidly and she knew the end was coming, she took prescribed pills to end the pain and her life.

“Death with dignity, it gives me the chance to think about how I want to leave things with them at the end,” the woman said.

Surgical oncologist and plaintiff in this case Katherine Morris watched with emotion, because she was the doctor who prescribed those pills, and was with the woman as she died. Morris could do that as an oncologist in Oregon. Now working in New Mexico, she wants patients to have the choice here, too.

“A lot of my patients have told me how challenging it is to go from being in their normal state of health to very quickly and rapidly losing control of their bodily functions or being able to get out of bed without help. That loss of autonomy is very difficult,” Morris said.

Morris says because her patients don’t want to die, it’s not assisted suicide. It’s a situation where they know they are about to die – and they want the process to be less painful for them and their families.

The state argued today that even if that’s true, a judge shouldn’t be the one to legalize aid in dying. They say if anyone’s going to change New Mexico’s rules on the issue, it should be lawmakers.

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