HELENA, Mont., April 28, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- By adjourning today, the third legislative body in six years officially rejected further attempts to jail doctors for writing aid-in-dying prescriptions for terminally ill adults who wish to end their suffering at the end of life. This medical option was authorized for Montanans by a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana. Since that ruling, multiple attempts have been made by a small group of lawmakers to repeal the end-of-life options the court made available. Each time, a bipartisan majority of legislators has defeated their effort as they did today, delivering a victory for Montanans.
"Enough," said Emily Bentley, Compassion & Choices Montana campaign manager. "Our courts have told us that end-of-life autonomy is protected under state law, and aid in dying is working exactly as intended for Montanans. It has given peace of mind to so many whose worlds were turned upside down by a terminal prognosis."
Bentley thanked the bipartisan majority of lawmakers for "respecting the rule of law and trusting Montanans to make their own medical decisions." She implored opponents, "Stop trying to overrule public opinion and our judiciary. Stop introducing these intrusive, oppressive bills."
Despite a series of efforts to criminalize medical aid in dying this session, the legislature adjourned on April 28, 2015 without passing HB477 or a similar bill, HB328: "The Physician Imprisonment Acts." There were a total of three hearings, three committee votes and four floor votes.
Retired Justice James Nelson ruled with the majority in the Baxter case in 2009 and wrote a special concurrence. After the session ended today, Nelson said, "I can think of no more empowering and comforting final thought in the mind of a person who chooses to end her own life and personal suffering than the knowledge that her autonomy, privacy and dignity were respected by her family, friends and fellow citizens to the end."
He continued, "Statesmen from both parties preserved the ability for competent adults in the throes of a life-ending illness to get compassionate counsel, care and an aid-in-dying prescription from their physician which they may – or may not – choose to take. It was the right thing to do."
In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in Baxter v. Montana that state law authorizes physicians to prescribe aid-in-dying medication to a terminally ill adult who requests it. The court said: "The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act clearly provides that terminally ill patients are entitled to autonomous end-of-life decisions."
The court required four safeguards: The patient must be 1) terminally ill, 2) mentally competent, 3) over 18 years old, and 4) must self-administer the medication. Five years later, many doctors across Montana have written aid-in-dying prescriptions for terminally ill people who request it.
A 2013 poll showed 69% of Montana voters support authorizing physicians to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication.
Compassion & Choices Montana continues its work educating Montanans about this end-of-life option, which is authorized in only four other states (Oregon, Washington, Vermont and New Mexico), and supporting physicians to share best practices in all end-of-life care. To learn more about the Baxter ruling and the medical practice of aid in dying, go to www.compassionandchoices.org/montana.
MONTANA MEDIA CONTACT: Emily Bentley, Montana Campaign Manager, 406.546.6552-c, [email protected]
SOURCE Compassion & Choices