On February 18, 2021, a bill (SB 290) was introduced in the Montana Senate declaring that physician aid in dying is against public policy and that the patient’s consent to physician aid in dying is not a defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician.
Text of SB 290
Status of SB 290
SB 202, a doctor-prescribed suicide bill titled the “Montana Death with Dignity Act,” was introduced on January 21, 2015.
Text of bill
List of actions on the bill
The bill was tabled by a committee on February 17, 2015.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
SB 220, which would have permitted Oregon-style doctor-prescribed suicide was introduced by Sen. Dick Barrett. The bill failed.
Sen. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls, introduced a bill, Senate bill no. 116, to prohibit physician-assisted suicide.
Senator Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, 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.
Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula drafted a bill to enshrine Judge Dorothy McCarter’s decision in Montana law. Montana assisted-suicide bill draft. 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)
District Court Decision (PDF) (12/5/08)
Motion for Stay Pending Appeal (PDF)
( Montana, USA – December 10, 2008 )
Montana Attorney General argued 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.”
Articles and Updates
“Montana lethal injection challenge set for trial”
(Great Falls Tribune — July 24, 2015)
Lawyers for death row inmates are challenging the constitutionality of using pentobarbital in executions, saying that it risks undue pain and suffering. Yet, according to William Fassett, professor emeritus of pharmacotherapy at Washington State University Spokane, “Pentobarbital is in fact the most common agent for death-with-dignity in Oregon and Washington.”
More on drugs used for doctor-prescribed suicide
“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.
“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.”
“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
“Montana Judge: Man Has Right to Assisted Suicide”
( Source: 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