End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

Bill to Imprison Doctors for Aid in Dying Gets Preliminary Approval from Montana Legislature Gov. Bullock Urged to Veto Bill Opposed by 73% of Montanansby Chris


Contact: Sean Crowley, [email protected]

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 11, 2013

(Washington, D.C. – Apr. 11, 2013) The Montana Senate today gave preliminary approval to a House-passed bill to imprison doctors for up to 10 years if they provide aid in dying to terminally ill patients, despite a new poll showing nearly three-quarters of state voters oppose the legislation. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to approve the bill, HB505, but today the Senate approved a motion to “blast” it out of committee to the Senate floor by a 31-17 vote. This procedural vote means that unless some senators change their minds on the 2nd or 3rd and final reading of HB 505, it will become law unless Gov. Steve Bullock vetoes the bill.

“We urge Montana senators who voted ‘aye’ to reverse course. This draconian bill would punish doctors for practicing good medicine and giving their suffering patients choices at the end-of-life,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, a nurse and physician assistant for 25 years before becoming a private attorney and a Chief Petitioner of the first-in-the nation 1994 Oregon Death with Dignity Act. “If they decide to defy the will of Montana voters, we urge Gov. Bullock to correct their error and veto this bill.”

A poll of 605 likely Montana voters conducted last week by Global Strategy Group shows 73 percent of them oppose HB 505, including 81 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans. The poll also reveals that 67 percent of voters will be less likely to vote for a legislator who supported HB 505, including 53 percent who said they will be much less likely. Nearly seven out 10 voters (69%) support allowing a mentally competent adult who is dying of a terminal disease and in extreme pain to choose to end his or her life in a humane and dignified way, including 48% who strongly support such a choice.

If HB 505 becomes law, it would gut a 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana, a case brought by Compassion & Choices. The court confirmed it does not violate state public policy in Montana for a physician to provide aid in dying to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult.

“If HB505 passes, I will be thrown in prison. The government will strip away a right that the citizens of Montana now enjoy,” said Dr. Eric Kress, a family physician at Western Montana Clinic, who has written aid in dying prescriptions for three patients since the Baxter decision. Kress authored an oped published Sunday in The Missoulian about treating terminally ill patients in agonizing pain.

In contrast to Montana, legislative efforts promoting patient choice at the end-of-life are underway in numerous other diverse states, including Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont. In February, the Vermont Senate gave final approval to a “Death with Dignity” bill that would protect doctors from criminal or civil liability when treating terminally ill patients who choose to end their lives. A national poll last May by Republican pollster Frank Luntz showed 84 percent of voters agree that: “How a terminally ill person chooses to end his/her life should be an individual decision and not a government decision.”