End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Montana Bill Would Obstruct Baxter Decision and Roll Back End-of-Life Choicesby Chris


by Compassion & Choices staff
February 19, 2013

HELENA – Legislation that would make aid in dying a homicide will be heard in the
House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 a.m. House Bill 505 would
change the legal landscape established in a 2009 state Supreme Court decision, which
found that a physician could not be prosecuted for prescribing medication that a
terminally ill person could take to bring about a peaceful death. HB505, sponsored by
Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel), seeks to “clarify the offense of aiding or soliciting
suicide” and would deny Montanans’ the right to choose aid in dying.

Before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Baxter v. Montana it was unclear whether
physicians could face prosecution for helping terminally ill patients who wished to end
their suffering. On December 31, 2009, the Baxter decision made Montana the third U.S.
state in which aid in dying is a safe and legal medical choice. The ruling strengthened
the 1991 Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, which allows mentally competent adults to
make a declaration – Montana’s term for a living will. In 2009 the Court ruled that the
Rights of the Terminally Ill Act specifically deferred to a patient’s own decisions and
affords patients the right to control their own bodies at the end of life. HB505 would
take that right away and weaken the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

“The fact that Senate Bill 220 was tabled and House Bill 505 exists is really
disappointing,” said Dustin Hankinson, a disability rights activist. “This bill is part of a
continuing effort to deny rights established in 1991 by the Rights of the Terminally Ill
Act and reaffirmed by Baxter three years ago.”

HB505 goes beyond just prohibiting aid in dying by putting a physician at risk of
prosecution for answering a patient’s questions about any of a variety of deathhastening
options, such as directing deactivation of a cardiac device, directing
withdrawal of a ventilator or feeding tube, or provision of palliative sedation; and a
spouse, child or friend could be prosecuted for driving the patient to the doctor’s office
for the discussion.

“The complex issues surrounding how we die represent the most critical and sacred
moments of our individual lives,” said Dr. Stephen Speckart, a Missoula cancer
specialist. “For a very small number of patients experiencing intolerable end-of-life
suffering and who have received maximal palliative support and who meet specific
criteria, physician aid in dying should be an option as an appropriate and compassionate
end-of-life decision.”