(HELENA, MONTANA — Feb. 23, 2017) A woman whose father, Bob Baxter, led the successful legal fight to authorize medical aid in dying as a peaceful option to end unbearable suffering for terminally ill adults in Montana, will testify tomorrow against a bill to ban the medical practice in the state.
Baxter’s daughter, Leslie Mutchler, a nurse practitioner from Billings, will testify before the Montana House Judiciary Committee on Friday at 8am against the bill, HB 536, that would make physicians who offer this end-of-life care option liable for homicide. The bill stipulates: “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.
“This legislation gives new meaning to the term ‘draconian,’” said Jessica Grennan, the National Director of Political Affairs and Advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “Threatening doctors who want to offer their terminally ill patients the option of a peaceful death with homicide and the death penalty is beyond the pale.”
Sadly, lawmakers introduced HB 536 to overturn a Montana Supreme Court ruling authorizing medical aid in dying on Monday, one day after Leslie’s 36-year-old son, Theodore “TJ” Mutchler, utilized this end-of-life care option to end his suffering from pancreatic cancer on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. By the time he died, the 6’5” Mutchler’s weight had dropped from 240 pounds to 125 pounds.
On Dec. 31, 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in a suit filed by Compassion & Choices on Bob Baxter’s behalf, 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.”
Today, Compassion & Choices released a video TJ and Leslie recorded on Nov. 29, 2016, urging Montana lawmakers not to advance legislation to criminalize medical aid in dying, as they have done unsuccessfully in every legislative session since Bob Baxter won his case to authorize this end-of-life option in 2009. The video is posted at: bit.ly/TJmutch
“If you can think of the worst flu you’ve ever had and you get the cold sweats and then have someone stab a hot poker in your insides and just twist it around,” TJ Mutchler says in the video. “I’m asking the Montana legislature to vote no against any bill that could possibly take any of this [the option of medical aid in dying] away from me.”
“TJ is not choosing to end his life,” Leslie Mutchler says in the video. “Cancer chose to end his life. And so, all he’s asking is for assistance in ending his suffering when he can’t take it anymore.”
Bob Baxter died from lymphocytic leukemia just hours after a state district court ruled in his favor on Dec. 5, 2008. One year later the Montana Supreme court ruled, again, in his favor on Dec. 31, 2009.
“My dad suffered in agony, bravely fighting for the right of other Montanans to die peacefully if their suffering becomes intolerable,” said Leslie Mutchler. “I need to tell our state lawmakers face to face how medical aid in dying enabled my son TJ to end his unbearable suffering and die peacefully in his sleep. Threatening doctors who are willing to provide this end-of-life option to terminally ill patients with homicide and the death penalty is bad, cruel public policy.”
“I have seen a lot of special people die horribly from this awful disease, cancer, including both of my grandfathers, my grandmother, older brother, and mother of my child,” said TJ’s 32-year-old brother Matthew Mutchler. “I don’t know if all of them would have used the right to die with dignity, but I know they would have liked to have had that option. I hope TJ’s peaceful passing will help educate lawmakers and the public about the importance of having the option of medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option.”
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.