ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CNS) — New Mexico’s Catholic bishops said they strongly oppose the “authorization of assisted suicide by the state” and affirm Catholic Church teaching “condemning the immoral and unethical use of physician-assisted suicide.”

“The emerging debate surrounding physician-assisted suicide forces all the members of society to pause,” they said.

“Our laws are meant to protect life,” the bishops added. “The Catholic Church teaches that we are stewards of life, and in heeding God’s command, ‘Thou shall not kill’ … we recognize that we cannot dispose of life.”

On Jan. 13, Judge Nan Nash of the state’s Second Judicial Court in Albuquerque ruled that terminally ill, mentally competent patients have the right to request a physician’s help in committing suicide. The New Mexico’s attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the decision to determine whether it would appeal.

Nash’s decision came after an early December trial on a legal challenge to the state’s decades-old law that made assisting in a suicide a fourth-degree felony. In response to her ruling, the Catholic bishops reiterated what they said in a statement issued Dec. 13, two days after the trial began.

The suit was filed on behalf of a Santa Fe woman with uterine cancer by the American Civil Liberties Union and Compassion & Choices, a group that advocates for physician-assisted suicide.

Two doctors joined the woman in the suit. The plaintiffs argued that physicians should be able to prescribe fatal drugs for terminally ill patients who want to die — and to do so without fear of prosecution.

In their statement, the bishops said: “This contemporary discussion in which we are involved also goes to the heart of the purpose of the medical profession. Physicians and other caregivers have the obligation to maintain life and to relieve pain.”

Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they said: “Voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.”

They also noted that the New Mexico Legislature recently debated and passed a measure to abolish the death penalty. In doing so, they said, “the state made it clear that it is not acceptable for one judge and eight jurors to take a person’s life based on the fact that human error can occur. The mistake cannot be reversed.”

“In the medical field, with all the wonderful breakthroughs in technology, errors still occur,” the bishops continued. “This error is evident in the number of malpractice lawsuits filed daily in our country. The mistake of one doctor in the case of physician-assisted suicide is not reversible. There are many cases of misdiagnosis. The power to take life should not be placed in the hands of one doctor and a witness.”

The statement was issued by the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops: Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe and Bishops James S. Wall of Gallup and Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces.