End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Baxter v Montana

Compassion & Choices Montana Unsurprised That Latest Polling Confirms Support for End-of-Life Choices Regardless of Party Affiliation

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 8, 2013

73% of Montanans Oppose “Physician Imprisonment Act”

(Helena) The overwhelming majority of Montanans, to the tune of 82 percent, believe that end-of-life choices are private decisions that should be made without government interference, according to an April 2013 poll of likely voters conducted by Global Strategy Group.

A memo released by Global Strategy Group reveals that “Voters want to know they have a legal option to end their own life in a humane and dignified way: More than 7 of 10 voters (71%) say that if they were terminally ill and in severe distress, they would want the legal option to end their own life in a humane and dignified way.” The memo further goes on to say, “Broad majorities of Montanans strongly support legal end-of-life choices and strongly reject any efforts to criminalize doctors for complying with their patients’ wishes. Furthermore, these data suggest that legislators will pay a real price for supporting efforts to penalize and criminalize doctors for doing so. Ultimately, Montanans support the choice for others, want to be able to make the legal choice for themselves, and believe there is no role for government when it comes to making that choice.”

Nearly three-quarters of voters across party lines oppose HB505, which would send doctors to prison for providing medication that would allow the patient to end his or her own life in a humane and dignified way. 67 percent of voters say they would be less likely to vote for a legislator who supported such a proposal, including 53 percent who said they would be much less likely.

Emily Bentley, Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices Montana, says, “This latest polling is consistent with what we know about Montana values. People in our state agree that privacy is important and individual freedom is worth protecting. They do not want to see their doctor imprisoned for providing what they believe is good medicine. Lawmakers should pay attention.”

Compassion & Choices Applauds Montana Committee’s Rejection of “Physician Imprisonment Act”

by Compassion & Choices Staff
April 3, 2013

HB505 Fails to Clear Senate Judiciary Committee on Tie Vote

(Helena, MT) – HB505, an extreme bill that would degenerate Montana’s currently legal practice of aid in dying into a felony, failed to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. The bill was tabled on a tie vote, 6-6. The following statement can be attributed to Emily Bentley, Campaign Manager, Compassion & Choices Montana.

“This bill is a gross intrusion into the physician-patient relationship: it would stifle discussions of end-of-life options and prohibit physicians from providing aid in dying to terminally ill patients who request it. HB 505 would deny suffering, terminally ill Montanans the freedom to choose aid in dying because it would imprison doctors who support their patients’ decisions to end their suffering. Montanans overwhelmingly support aid in dying. This should be the end of the Physician Imprisonment Act.”

Wife Dying of Cancer No Option for Aid in Dying

Letter to the Editor
Montana Standard
March 19, 2013

I wish my wife had the option to discuss aid in dying with her physician.

My name is David “Doc” Moore. I am the current Republican Representative from House District 91 in Missoula County. Eleven years ago my wife passed away from Stage 4 malignant melanoma. She fought the disease for five years, and her quality of life was good up until the final three weeks, when she went downhill fast. My wife was a strong woman, but when her cancer came back it had spread to her lungs, liver, spleen and brain. The cancer in her liver was crushing her from the inside out making her breathing labored. When she finally slipped into a coma, we thought there would be relief.

Unfortunately, it was clear from her facial expressions and the constant death rattle that she was still suffering. Her pain ended only when she died. This was before the Baxter decision, so my wife did not have the option to use aid in dying. I wish she had the option to discuss this choice with her physician.

Most Montanans agree that it is not the government’s role to interfere in private medical decisions.

Politicians are the last people needed at the bedside of a dying person. House Bill 505 would allow the government to undermine the sacred relationship between doctor and patient. It is so broadly written that physicians will be scared of being second-guessed by prosecutors and legislators when treating dying patients for pain.

In Helena, we like to know what regular folks are thinking. Please email the Senate Judiciary Committee using the MT.gov website and call your senator at 406-444-4800. Tell them to VOTE NO on House Bill 505. Don’t put doctors in prison.

– David “Doc’’ Moore, R-Missoula

HEARING SET ON DOCTOR IMPRISONMENT ACT OF 2013 – MARCH 26

by Compassion & Choices staff
March 20, 2013

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HELENA – Legislation that would treat aid in dying as homicide will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 26, at 8 a.m. House Bill 505, sponsored by Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel), seeks to put physicians in prison for up to 10 years for providing aid in dying to terminal patients who request it. It would change the legal landscape established in a 2009 state Supreme Court decision, which found that a physician could not be prosecuted for prescribing medication that a terminally ill person could take to bring about a peaceful death.

The bill could create a government-imposed gag order on physicians and could land doctors in prison for answering their patients’ questions about end-of-life medical care. Physicians worry that they will be second-guessed by prosecutors and legislators when treating dying patients for pain or even patients with symptoms such as sleeplessness or anxiety.

Dustin Hankinson, a disability rights activist and dedicated advocate of end-of-life choice who suffers from muscular dystrophy, testified at the House Judiciary hearing on Feb. 20 against this threat to the right he helped secure in Montana, “By going through all this work – all this work to stay alive – because I want to make a difference in this world, what have I earned? I’ve earned the ability to have them starve me to death and dehydrate, or to drown in my own body fluid. Those are my only options. There should be another option. Palliative care by itself is not adequate. We’re not pro-death. We’re pro-choice. We want people to make decisions that allow them to take responsibility for their own lives.”

A 2010 Binder Research poll showed that an overwhelming majority of Democratic, Independent and Republican voters in Montana “support allowing dying patients in severe distress to make their own end-of-life choice to receive prescription for life-ending medication.”

Before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Baxter v. Montana, it was unclear whether physicians could help terminally ill patients who wished to end their suffering. On December 31, 2009, the Baxter decision made Montana the third U.S. state where aid in dying is a safe and legal medical choice. The ruling strengthened the 1991 Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, which allows mentally competent adults to make a declaration – Montana’s term for a living will. In 2009 the court ruled that the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act specifically defers to a patient’s own decisions and affords patients the right to control their own bodies at the end of life. HB505 would take that right away and weaken the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

“Most Montanans agree that it is not the government’s role to interfere in private medical decisions. Politicians are the last people needed at the bedside of a dying person,” said Rep. David “Doc” Moore (R-Missoula). “House Bill 505 would allow the government to undermine the sacred relationship between doctor and patient.”

Many doctors are also speaking out against HB505. Family medicine and palliative care physician Eric Kress appears in a Compassion & Choices Montana radio ad campaign airing on stations throughout Montana this week.

“Sometimes I’m called upon to provide care and compassion to suffering, terminally ill patients at the end of their lives,” Kress said. “But legislators want to put doctors like me who help dying patients in extreme pain in prison. This would ignore the Montana Supreme Court and get big, invasive government into our private medical decisions.”

Kress, Moore and Hankinson will be available at the hearing on March 26 to speak with media representatives.

Compassion & Choices Montana Announces Statewide Radio Campaign in Support of Aid in Dying

by Compassion & Choices staff
March 18, 2013

HELENA – Compassion & Choices Montana today announced a statewide radio campaign designed to educate the public on House Bill 505. The campaign, which begins airing ads this week, urges Montanans to contact their legislators and ask them to vote against a bill that would treat aid in dying as a homicide. Sixty-five percent of Montana voters want their own personal doctor to be able to comply with their end-of-life choices. HB 505, sponsored by Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel), seeks to put physicians in prison for up to 10 years for providing aid in dying to terminally ill patients who request it. It would change the legal landscape established in a 2009 state Supreme Court decision, which found that a physician could not be prosecuted for prescribing medication that a terminally ill person could take to bring about a peaceful death.

Dr. Eric Kress, featured in the ads, was a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case. Prior to his current position as a family physician at Western Montana Clinic in Missoula, Kress served as medical director at Hospice of Missoula for nine years.

“In my practice, I provide care and compassion to suffering, terminally ill patients at the end of their lives. But this bill would imprison doctors like me who help dying patients in extreme pain,” Kress said. “This bill would gut a Montana Supreme Court decision and allow big, invasive government into private medical decisions.”

Before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Baxter v. Montana, it was unclear whether physicians could help terminally ill patients who wished to end their suffering. On December 31, 2009, the Baxter decision made Montana the third U.S. state where aid in dying is a safe and legal medical choice. The ruling strengthened the 1991 Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, which allows mentally competent adults to make a declaration – Montana’s term for a living will. In 2009 the court ruled that the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act specifically defers to a patient’s own decisions and affords patients the right to control their own bodies at the end of life. HB505 would take that right away and weaken the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.