End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

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.”

Former Elected Official Now Super-Activist

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 3, 2013

Jane Jelinski is no stranger to politics. She served as a Gallatin County Commissioner from 1984 until 1998 and is known as an activist in Bozeman, Montana. But life can render injustice in a very personal light and fuel an even greater determination for political change.

She had always been a supporter of choice at the end of life. She was gratified when the Montana Supreme Court’s Baxter decision declared aid in dying was an option available to Montanans who are terminally ill and had followed subsequent efforts to establish a framework for the practice. Then it got personal.

Just over a year ago, Jane talked with her close friend Judy, who had endured a progression of incurable and progressive illnesses for the past 18 years. “She had talked about her pain many times, but on this day she told me that her life was unrelenting agony,” Jane remembers. “She could not eat, sleep, sit, lie down or walk without pain. There was just no pleasure in her life anymore.”

The following evening, a Sunday night, Judy drove to a vacant parking lot, alone with a gun, and shot herself. “She was exactly my age. I did not know she was going to kill herself. But it broke my heart because she has a loving family and went to all these elaborate preparations to conceal from them what she was going to do. I was so horrified by that — the violence and the loneliness of it. “

Jane urged members of the state legislature to affirm access to aid in dying. She learned there was a bill — SB 220, the Montana Death with Dignity Act — that would do just that by creating explicit protections for doctors that would make the practice more widely available. Through bill sponsor Rep. Dick Barrett she learned about Compassion & Choices and began working to help give people facing terminal illness better options than Judy had. She quickly began enlisting other activists from among her friends and neighbors, and reaching out to key community members.

On February 11, with the thermometer well below freezing, Jane hit the road, driving for hours across the rugged Montana landscape to the state Capitol in Helena. There in a hearing room before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she shared Judy’s story in support of SB 220. “She should have had access to medication she could have self-administered so she could have died painlessly and peacefully at home with her family.  Please support SB 220 so future patients might not have to endure such a violent and lonely end to their unbearable suffering.”

Jane learned days later that the committee had voted to table SB 220, effectively ending its chances until the next legislative session, in 2015. Worse news was to come.

Rep. Krayton Kerns introduced HB 505, now known as the “Physician Imprisonment Act of 2013.” Aiming to gut the court’s ruling, Kerns’ bill called for imprisoning doctors for 10 years on felony charges if they provided aid in dying to their patients who request it. As the bill moved through the Montana House, Jane wrote to the editor of The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, lambasting “politicians [who] would arrogantly substitute their personal beliefs for your choices.” The paper published her letter — right next to an ad paid for by aid-in-dying opponents. It was a strong one-two punch. People who saw the ad and her letter contacted Jane about getting involved.

Jane contacted her state Senator Larry Jent and Gov. Steve Bullock. Both were politicians she had worked with as a commissioner; she supported them in their campaigns.

For the March Judiciary Committee hearing on HB 505, Jane got back in the car and once again made the 60-mile journey to Helena. She joined doctors, social workers, nurses, terminally ill patients and other survivors to speak out for patient choice. They denounced a bill that is so extreme it would make it a felony for doctors to answer their patients’ questions about how to die peacefully if a terminal disease became unbearable. “I do not want to be denied the right to die with dignity,” Jane said, “because of legislators’ intrusion into the most private decisions a person can make.”

Jane has also reached out to her neighbors and friends to help fund Compassion & Choices’ statewide radio and print ad campaign, bringing attention to the “Physician Imprisonment Act.” Their contributions mean these ads are turning up the heat on legislators who hear increasingly from their constituents in opposition to the bill. At the time this story goes to press, the bill’s fate is unknown. But if it makes it out of the Senate, the cry will become even stronger for Gov. Bullock to exercise his veto.

Compassion & Choices knows it takes more than just legislation or court action to give people real options at the end of life. Regardless of the outcome in the Montana legislature, every doctor and patient must know the option is available, and doctors need to understand the practice. Jane Jelinski continues to help by bringing that knowledge and understanding to her community. In March, she introduced Compassion & Choices organizers to Bozeman area doctors, who this month will host a breakfast conversation with fellow physicians and caregivers about the availability of aid in dying in Montana.

“I just think that as citizens we have a responsibility to stand up for what we believe in,” Jane says. “After I retired from being county commissioner I taught state and local government at MSU, and what I always told my students was: ‘The world is run by those who show up.’ I think if everybody would think about that and get off their duffs and just show up, we’d have a better society.”

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

MT BannerClick on the banner to hear our radio ad running in Montana.

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.