End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Huge Victory: Aid in Dying Preserved in Montanaby Chris

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by Compassion & Choices staff
April 17, 2013

Choice at life’s end scored a major victory yesterday! The Montana Senate defeated a bill to criminalize aid in dying, which was made legal by the 2009 state Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana.

As a Compassion & Choices supporter, you share credit for this impressive win. We prevailed against anti-choice zealots who worked for more than three years to undo the landmark Baxter ruling and quash the right of terminally ill Montanans to die with dignity on their own terms.

Make no mistake: This is a resounding victory for Compassion & Choices, our supporters in Montana and across the country, and for the principle of self-determination. Please take a few moments to savor it and the extraordinary effort that made it possible.

1) The Montana Senate actually reversed course to defeat HB505. We called it the “Physician Imprisonment Act of 2013″ because it would have incarcerated doctors for up to 10 years for providing aid in dying to terminal patients. Once predicted to pass, the bill was defeated instead, by a bipartisan vote of 27-23.

2) The Senate vote was the direct result of sustained on-the-ground activism by Compassion & Choices Montana. For more than two years, this dynamic campaign fielded staff and volunteers to alert residents to the threat of HB505. Its multi-tactical campaign included:

• an education drive that reached tens of thousands of Montanans in all corners of the state and encouraged them to telephone their legislators and otherwise make their voice heard;
radio and print ads urging Montanans to contact their legislators to oppose the bill;
outreach to newspaper editorial boards and other opinion leaders, and an aggressive letter-to-the-editor campaign;
mobilization of doctors to publicly oppose the bill and affirm their support for the practice of aid in dying;
in-person lobbying of lawmakers in Helena and their home districts;
social media and other efforts to spread the word and summon voters to action.

3) A high point in our campaign came when long-time supporter Dr. Eric Kress, a family physician at Western Montana Clinic, publicly disclosed that he had written aid-in-dying prescriptions for three of his patients since the 2009 Baxter decision.

Dr. Kress narrated our radio ad, appeared in print ads, authored a powerful op-ed for The Missoulian newspaper and delivered courageous testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We cannot overstate the importance of his eloquent and persuasive support, and the influence it had on lawmakers and the public alike.

4) We backed up our advocacy with a poll of Montana voters, which confirmed that 73 percent opposed HB505 and 67 percent were less likely to vote for a legislator who supported it.

5) The victory maintains Montana’s status as the third state where aid in dying is expressly legal. That status was the direct result of Compassion & Choices’ landmark Baxter v. Montana lawsuit, which confirmed that physician aid in dying did not violate state public policy in Montana.

6) The victory also underscores the growing level of public willingness to take personal action to defend the right to death with dignity, and to oppose zealots who seek to pass draconian laws like HB505 and use misinformation, scare tactics, moral judgments and other means to deny people their most sacred rights at life’s end.

Special thanks goes to the thousands of Montanans who took action to defeat HB505, and to hundreds of Compassion & Choices Montana volunteers who worked the phones, knocked on doors, talked to neighbors and loved ones, and otherwise devoted themselves to make sure that truth and reason prevailed.

Without our shared commitment, HB505 would be law today. The fact that it isn’t is a true testament to the leadership of Compassion & Choices Montana and the dedication of our wonderful supporters.

BCL and JG Sign