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Doctor Death Penalty Bill Advances in Montana House

Opponents Urge Lawmakers to Reject Legislation on Final Vote Tomorrow

(Helena, Mont. – Feb. 28, 2017) The Montana House gave initial approval today to a bill that would allow the state to execute doctors for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication for a terminally ill adult who requests it to peacefully end their suffering. The Montana House approved the bill, HB 536, by a vote of 52 to 48.

Introduced by Rep. Brad Tschida (97th district-Missoula), HB 536 states: “…physician aid in dying is against public policy, and a patient’s consent to physician aid in dying is not a defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician.” Deliberate homicide in Montana is punishable by a maximum sentence of the death penalty and minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The House must vote on HB 536 a second and final time by tomorrow to meet the March 1 deadline for transmitting legislation to the Senate for consideration this year. No bill can be amended before the second and final House vote on it, according to Montana’s legislative process.

“This dark ages legislation should be called the ‘Doctor Death Penalty Act’ because it would allow the state to execute doctors for doing their jobs of providing relief to terminally ill patients in agony,” said Jessica Grennan, the Missoula-based National Director of Political Affairs and Advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “It is more likely to kill doctors than it is to save terminally ill patients, so we urge House members to come to their senses and reject it.”

TJ Mutchler and his mom, Leslie Mutchler, in 2009

TJ Mutchler and his mom, Leslie Mutchler, in 2009

HB 536 would overturn the 2009 Montana Supreme Court decision in a suit filed by Compassion & Choices on behalf of a terminally ill truck driver from Billings, Bob Baxter. The court ruled in the case, Baxter v. Montana, that: “…we find no indication in Montana law that physician aid in dying provided to terminally ill, mentally competent adult patients is against public policy.”

“This bill is a slap in the face to my father, who fought to authorize medical aid in dying while he was dying, and my son, who utilized this end-of-life option just last week to end his intolerable suffering from pancreatic cancer,” said Bob Baxter’s daughter, Leslie Mutchler, a nurse practitioner from Billings. Her son, TJ Mutchler, is Baxter’s grandson and died a week ago Sunday, Feb. 17. “I beg lawmakers to reconsider supporting this horrific bill. As a nurse practitioner, I know it will only cause great harm for terminally ill Montanans and their doctors.”

Last Thursday, Compassion & Choices released a video featuring TJ and Leslie Mutchler urging Montana lawmakers not to advance legislation to criminalize medical aid in dying, as they have done in every legislative session since the Baxter ruling. The video is posted at bit.ly/TJmutch

Nearly 7 out 10 Montana voters (69%) said they 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, according to Global Strategy Group survey in April 2013.