Montana

Compassion and Choices, the doctor-prescribed suicide advocacy group (formerly called the Hemlock Society) was the top spender to influence the Montana’s legislature in 2013.

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On December 31, 2009, the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling changed the legal status of doctor-prescribed suicide in the state.   

In its opinion (PDF),  the Montana Supreme Court ruled that rights granted under the state’s living will law, “The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act,” form the basis for permitting physician “aid in dying.”

Montana joins Oregon and Washington as a state in which doctors can prescribe intentionally lethal drug overdoses for the purpose of assisted suicide.  However, the court did not officially legalize assisted suicide but said that, if charged with assisting a suicide, a doctor could use the patient’s request as a defense.

For an analysis of the Montana decision and the way in which doctor-prescribed suicide in Montana differs from that in Oregon and Washington, see “Montana Supreme Court: Physician-Assisted Suicide Is an End-of-Life Option,” in State Court Docket Watch — Spring 2010. (Article begins on page 4.)

Since that ruling, various bills have been introduced to both permit Oregon-style doctor-prescribed suicide and to explicitly prohibit it.

Background

For years, assisted-suicide advocates have been attempting to change the crime of assisted suicide into an accepted medical treatment, primarily through legislative proposals and voter initiatives.  However, they have also tried to achieve their agenda by using the courts to challenge laws that prohibit assisted suicide.

When the U.S. Supreme Court declared that such laws does not violate any federal right to privacy, the quest shifted to state courts.  Five state constitutions (Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, and Montana) contain explicit right to privacy provisions.  Cases based on those provisions have been heard in Alaska, California and Florida.  Each of the three time, the state supreme court found that the right to privacy in the state constitution did not apply to assisted suicide.  So, there were three more losses for assisted-suicide advocates.

In the past several years, it became apparent that Montana would be targeted for the next court challenge.

In October 2007, a lawsuit was filed to challenge Montana’s law.  Spearheaded by Compassion and Choices (the former Hemlock Society), the suit challenged Montana’s law which makes assisting suicide a crime.

2013 Legislation

HB 505, which would have explicitly prohibited doctor-prescribed suicide, was introduced by Rep. Krayton Kerns.  The bill passed in the House and was sent to the Senate. where it failed on April 15, 2013 in a 27 – 23 vote.
(See “Legal Debate” below in “Article and Updates” for discussion of HB 505.)

SB 220, which would have permitted Oregon-style doctor-prescribed suicide was introduced by Sen. Dick Barrett.  The bill failed.

2011 Legislation

Sen. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls, has introduced a bill, Senate bill no. 116,  to prohibit physician-assisted suicide.

Senator Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, has introduced a bill. Senate bill no. 167, to create a regulatory framework for the practice of doctor-prescribed suicide.

Neither the Hinkle bill nor the Blewett bill received sufficient support for passage.

2009 Legislation

Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula drafted a bill to enshrine Judge Dorothy McCarter’s decision in Montana law. Montana assisted-suicide bill draft (PDF).   However the Legislature did not take action on the bill.

Court Case: Baxter v. State

Baxter v. Montana: Montana Supreme Court Opinion (12/31/09) (PDF)

Baxter v. Montana amicus curiae brief (PDF)

District Court Decision (PDF)  (12/5/08)

Motion for Stay Pending Appeal (PDF)
( Montana, USA – December 10, 2008 )
Montana Attorney General argues that “unless and until Montana’s legislature decides to start down the rarely traveled path toward a regulated regimen of physician-assisted suicide, the court should refuse to blaze a trail.” More

Motion for Stay Denied (PDF)
( Montana, USA – January 6, 2009 )
The trial judge has denied the State’s motion for a stay. View

Articles and Updates

“Elder abuse a growing concern”
(Missoulian — July 3, 2014)
Every year an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation…Last year in Montana, Adult Protective Services investigated 6,291 cases….According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, 90 percent of the abuse is perpetrated by a relative, spouse, partner or other caregivers.

“Judge wrong about Montana suicide-aid-law”
(Albuquerque Journal — January 31, 2014)
Jeff Essmann, President of the Montana Senate, explains the errors about Montana in New Mexico District Court Judge Nan Nash’s findings, saying,”The judge should have done her homework.”

“Nearly $6.1 million spent to influence 2013 Montana Legislature”
(Missoulian — May 29, 2013)
Lobbying by corporations, trade associations, unions and advocacy groups was higher than in previous years.  The top spender was Compassion and Choices. [Compassion and Choices is the doctor-prescribed suicide advocacy group, formerly called the Hemlock Society.]

“Montana man wrongly told he had terminal brain cancer wins $60,000″
(CBS News — May 9, 2013)
In the months Templin believed he was dying he quit his job, sold his pickup truck, celebrated a “last” birthday, bought a prearranged funeral service and contemplated suicide.

“Montana Senate rejects physician-assisted suicide bill”
(Missoulian — April 15, 2013)
House Bill 505 was struck down on Monday in a 27 – 23 floor vote after senators removed it from the Senate Judiciary Committee where it was stuck after failing to get a majority of support.

“Assisted suicide bill up in air following tied vote”
(Great Falls Tribune — April 4, 2013)
The Senate Judiciary Committee gridlocked Wednesday morning on a bill that would have made it illegal for a doctor to aid in a patients’ dying. The committee voted 6 – 6 on the bill, which leaves it in limbo in committee for now.

“Slippery slope of assisted suicide”
(Daily Inter Lake — March 23,2013)
One’s initial reaction might be to wonder why the legislature is putting itself in a position of interfering with the autonomy of a person to choose their own demise with medical assistance….In Oregon, the overall suicide rate has increased 35 percent since assisted suicide was legalized.

“Legal Debate Over Doctor-Assisted Suicide”
(Transcript of Diane Rehm Show — March 5, 2013)
Guests include Rep. Krayton Kerns, Dr. Joanne Lynn, Barbara Coombs Lee, Prof. Thaddeus Pope.

“Board won’t change assisted-suicide policy”
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution — November 16, 2012)
The Montana Board of Medical Examiners rejected a request Friday to strike its policy on physician-assisted suicide that opponents criticize as too permissive.
The board earlier this year tried to provide some guidance to doctors on that issue, which remains unclear to many.

“Mont. lawmakers punt on physician-assisted suicide”
( Seattle Post-Intelligencer – - February 20, 2011 )
Montana legislators had been asked to choose between two proposed bills in creating a physician-assisted suicide law: Ban the practice altogether or create regulation for doctors and terminally ill patients to follow. Now it appears they’ll do neither, leaving the state in the same legal limbo that has existed since a Montana Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized the practice more than a year ago.

“Bill to set rules for doc-assisted suicide fails”
( CNBC – - February 10, 2011 )
Lawmakers tabled a bill Thursday that would have established rules for physician-assisted suicide – setting up a situation where Montana could remain in limbo under a 2009 ruling that doesn’t specifically prevent doctors from getting criminally charged in such cases.

“MT lawmaker sponsors bill to address ‘aid in dying’”
( KRTV TV – - January 12, 2011 )
“MT State Senator Anders Blewett (D-Great Falls) introduced a bill on Wednesday in the Montana Legislature which would allow terminally ill patients to choose aid in dying.” [Aid in dying is the label of choice for those who favor doctor-prescribed suicide.] “Blewitt said, ‘We need to create a regulatory framework for this, create a standard of care, and most importantly make sure that doctors feel safe in performing these procedures.”

“Compassion and Choices Uses Murder/Suicide to Advertise Doctor-Prescribed Death in Montana”
( Secondhand Smoke (blog) – - September 4, 2010 )
The pro assisted suicide group Compassion and Choices, along with a compliant media, continues to romanticize self destruction as an answer to the problem of human suffering. Latest example: In Montana, a man murdered his wife, who had cerebral palsy, set his house on fire, and then, shot himself. How is the tragedy treated? As an advertisement for assisted suicide.

“Libby shooting, arson tragedy puts focus on ‘aid in dying’”
( Missoulian – - September 4, 2010 )
Ted Hardgrove shot his wife, Libby, who had cerebral palsy. Then, he set fire to their home and shot himself. According to the county sheriff, the murder suicide was an act of love. Steve Hopcraft, a spokesperson for Compassion & Choices used the tragedy to call for more publicity for “aid in dying” which, he explained, is legal and “can help you have the peaceful death everyone wants.”

“Montana to Permit Assisted Suicide”
( Philadelphia Bulletin – January 12, 2010 )
Montana’s highest court ruled on Dec. 31 that physicians who help terminally ill patients commit suicide cannot be prosecuted, thus making it the third state in the U.S. to allow the practice. More

“Families of Dying Say Assisted Suicide Is Right”
( ABC News – September 2, 2009 )
Montana families challenging law, saying that ”denying their loved ones a ‘compassionate option’ to their end-of-life robs them of their right under the state constitution.” But others warn that ”because assisted suicide is less expensive than other treatment, it would be more attractive to insurance companies.” More

“No physician-assisted suicide bills heard in Legislature”
( Bozeman Daily Chronicle – Helena, MT USA – February 21, 2009 )
Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer for Compassion and Choices, said the guidelines in the court ruling are sufficient. “It’s very unusual that a physician would be governed by a statute telling them how to practice medicine,” she said. More

“Plaintiff attys win fees in assisted suicide case”
( Billings Gazette – Billings, MT USA – February 20, 2009 )
The judge who ruled that physician-assisted suicide is legal in Montana has ordered the state to pay attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs’ lawyers in an amount yet to be determined. More

“Death by mail – Montana’s new assisted suicide law”
( OneNewsNow – January 19, 2009 )
Doctor-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon and Washington, but Rita Marker of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide says what sets the situation apart in Montana is that the ruling has no boundaries or safeguards. More

“Stay of ruling on suicide rejected”
( Billings Gazette – Billings, Montana USA – January 8, 2009 )
A state district judge in Helena on Wednesday denied a request from the Montana Attorney General’s Office to stay her judicial order that recently affirmed a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. More

“Montana Judge: Man Has Right to Assisted Suicide”
( ABC News – Helena, Montana USA – December 6, 2008 )
A Montana judge has ruled that doctor-assisted suicides are legal in the state, a decision likely to be appealed as the state argues that the Legislature, not the court, should decide whether terminally ill patients have the right to take their own lives. View Decision

“Judge rules in favor of assisted suicide”
( Helenair.com – Montana, USA – December 7, 2008 )
A state district judge has ruled Montana residents have the right to doctor-assisted suicide. The ruling issued late Friday by Judge Dorothy McCarter makes Montana the third state in which doctor-assisted suicide is legal. More

“Billings man at center of state lawsuit over the right to die”
(KTVQ-TV, Billings, Montana 10/19/07)

“Two terminally ill Montana residents sue state in right-to-die case”
(Great Falls Tribune, 10/18/07)