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Montana House Passes Bill That Would Imprison Doctors Who Provide Medical Aid in Dying

Compassion & Choices Urges Montana Senate to Reject Bill That Undermines Doctor-Patient Relationship

(Helena, Mont. – March 16, 2015) Compassion & Choices criticized the Montana House’s passage today of a bill that would imprison doctors if they prescribe aid-in-dying medication for a terminally ill adult who wants that option to end their suffering.

Legislators voted 51-48 to pass the bill, HB477, on the third and final reading after reversing course several times over the past week. The bill now moves to the Senate.

The bill, which opponents call “The Physician Imprisonment Act,” is one of several in recent years intended to gut the state Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Baxter v. Montana, which authorizes aid in dying in the state.

“Lawmakers in the House, who should be champions of small government, lost their way today,” said Emily Bentley, Montana campaign manager. “We urge the Senate to make a more thoughtful decision, based on Montana law and the will of the people. The government should not intervene in deeply personal and private end-of-life medical decisions. It’s outrageous to say that doctors deserve up to 10 years in prison for complying with the wishes of their suffering, dying patients.”

A 2013 poll showed 69 percent 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. Five years later, many doctors across Montana have written aid-in-dying prescriptions for terminally ill people who request it. The Supreme Court did not rule on constitutional grounds.