Health Highlights: Jan. 14, 2014
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Doctors Can Help Dying People End Their Lives: New Mexico Judge
Terminally ill people who are mentally competent have the right to ask a doctor for drugs to help them end their lives, a New Mexico judge has decided.
New Mexico Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash made the ruling after a two-day trial involving a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the end-of-life advocacy group Compassion & Choices on behalf of two New Mexico doctors and terminally ill cancer patient Aja Riggs, CNN reported.
The case focused on whether the doctors should be permitted to write prescriptions for Riggs, who would use the drugs to end her life. The ruling could make New Mexico the fifth state to allow doctors to prescribe drugs to help dying patients end their lives.
New Mexico's Attorney General's office said it was studying the decision before deciding if it would file an appeal, CNN reported.
"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 in the ruling. "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?"
Assisted suicide is banned in most states, but aid-in-dying is permitted in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont, CNN reported.
Riggs, 50, said she is glad she now has a choice. Her cancer is currently in remission, but statistically is likely to return, she noted.
Well-Known Teen with Rapid-Aging Disease Dies
An American teen whose life with the rapid-aging disease progeria was chronicled in a documentary film that's being considered for an Academy Award has died.
Sam Berns, 17, died Friday in Boston from complications of the disease. He had been planning to apply to college and hoped to study cell biology or genetics, The New York Times reported.
He was an Eagle Scout, played the drums, enjoyed math, science and comic books, and was a fan of Boston-area sports teams.
Sam was born in Providence, R.I. on Oct. 23, 1996 to parents Dr. Scott Berns and Dr. Leslie Gordon, both physicians. He was diagnosed with progeria just before age 2. His parents could find little medical literature about progeria so they, along with Leslie Gordon's sister Audrey Gordon, created the Progeria Research Foundation in 1999.
Progeria is extremely rare, affecting one in four million to one in eight million babies. The genetic condition causes rapid premature aging and patients experience stunted growth, hair loss, heart problems and joint deterioration, The Times reported.
The gene that causes the disease was isolated in 2003, but there is still no cure. On average, patients live to age 13 and typically die of heart attack or stroke.
"Life According to Sam" begins when Sam is 13 and follows him for three years. In the film, Sam explains why he agreed to take part: "I didn't put myself in front of you to have you feel bad for me," he says. "You don't need to feel bad for me. Because I want you to get to know me. This is my life."
The documentary, which was broadcast on HBO in October and has been shown at film festivals, is among 15 documentaries being considered for Oscar nominations, The Times reported.
"No matter what I choose to become, I believe that I can change the world," Sam said during a talk at a TEDx conference talk last year. "And as I'm striving to change the world, I will be happy."
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