End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Montana Court Denies Stay of Decision in Favor of Terminally Ill Patients’ Right to Death With Dignityby Sonja

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Montana’s First Judicial Court today denied the State of Montana’s request for a stay of the court’s December decision in favor of terminal Montana patients’ right to a dignified death. The court found that patients’ right to aid in dying is protected by the Montana Constitution’s guarantees of privacy, dignity and equal protection. The court decision allows terminal patients to obtain from their physician medications they could self-administer to bring about a peaceful death, if suffering becomes intolerable.

Compassion & Choices Legal Director Kathryn Tucker, who teamed with Montana litigator Mark Connell, in arguing for the patients and physicians, responded to the court’s ruling, “The district court has now denied the State’s request for a stay of the court’s December 5th ruling that aid in dying is a fundamental right guaranteed to mentally competent, terminally ill Montanans by the state constitution.  The ruling, therefore, remains in effect.

Terminally ill patients — people who are suffering from a disease from which they are about to die in any event — therefore have a right to request a prescription for medication from their doctors which they can choose to take to shorten their period of suffering and bring about a peaceful death.  This is a choice the law entrusts to them and not to the government, to exercise or not to exercise as the individual patient thinks best, since it is the patient’s own life, suffering and death that’s involved. Montanans trapped in an unbearable dying process now have an additional end-of-life choice.  This is a choice that Bob Baxter sought for himself, and his courage in bringing this case forward will help bring comfort and relief to his fellow citizens.”

Compassion & Choices encourages terminally ill patients to contact Compassion & Choices if they would like information about the newly recognized right, or suggestions on how to open a dialogue with their physician and loved ones. Physicians may also contact us for suggestions on how to evaluate and respond to a request. Our counselors and informative materials are available to Montanans by calling 800 247-7421.