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Another Attempt to Criminalize Doctors Who Provide Aid in Dying Rejected by Montana Lawmakers

Compassion & Choices Praises Legislature for Preserving End-of-Life Freedoms

(Helena, MT – March 13, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the Montana House for rejecting a second bill in four weeks that would have criminalized writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication to a terminally ill adult who wants that option to end their suffering. The bill, which opponents call “The Physician Imprisonment Act” because it would have imprisoned a doctor for up to 10 years for this medical practice, was one of several in recent years intended to gut the state Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Baxter v. Montana.

A bipartisan group of legislators voted 50-50 to defeat the former bill, HB477, after the Montana House Judiciary Committee had approved it on Friday, Feb. 20. On Feb. 17, the Montana House rejected a bill that would have charged a doctor with homicide for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication.

“We have been fighting frivolous bills like this for too long,” said Emily Bentley, Compassion & Choices Montana Campaign Manager. “Our courts have told us that existing state law protects end-of-life autonomy, and the overwhelming majority of Montanans agree. It’s time for these opponents of freedom to move on.”

A 2013 poll showed 69% of Montana voters support authorizing physicians to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication.

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. The court did not rule one way or the other on constitutional grounds. Five years later, many doctors across Montana have written aid-in-dying prescriptions for terminally ill people who request it.