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Doctor Death Penalty Bill Defeated in Final Vote by Montana House

Opponents Thank Lawmakers for Rejecting Legislation They Approved Tuesday

(Helena, Mont. – March 1, 2017) The Montana House reversed course today and rejected a bill that would have allowed 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 House failed to pass the bill, HB 536, it approved yesterday by a 52 to 48 vote, after two legislators switched from yea to nay votes, resulting in a 50 to 50 tie vote today.

Introduced by Rep. Brad Tschida (97th district-Missoula), HB 536 stated: “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.

“We thank the Montana House for coming to its senses and rejecting this doctor death penalty bill that would have allowed the state to execute physicians for giving terminally ill patients the option of medical aid in dying when no other treatment option provides relief for their suffering,” said Jessica Grennan, the Missoula-based National Director of Political Affairs and Advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “This legislative triumph upholds the legacy of Bob Baxter’s selfless legal fight as he was dying to authorize medical aid in dying for other terminally ill Montanans.”

TJ Mutchler with girlfriend Keri Staebler

TJ Mutchler with girlfriend Keri Staebler

HB 536 would have overturned 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.”

“Medical aid in dying enabled my son TJ to enjoy the last few months of his life, knowing he could peacefully end his suffering when it became unbearable,” said Bob Baxter’s daughter, Leslie Mutchler, a nurse practitioner from Billings. Her son, TJ Mutchler, is Baxter’s grandson, and died 11 days ago, on Sun., Feb. 19. “Thankfully, my father’s dying gift to other terminally ill Montanans is secure for the time being. I hope and pray our lawmakers stop trying to criminalize compassionate doctors who want to honor their suffering patient’s wishes to die peacefully.”

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.