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Senate Committee Rejects Bill to Imprison Doctors Who Practice Aid in Dying

Compassion & Choices Praises Committee for Preserving End-of-Life Freedoms

(Helena, Mont. – March 31, 2015) Compassion & Choices praised the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee for rejecting a bill to criminalize and imprison doctors who write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication for terminally ill adults who wants the option to end their suffering.

The bill, which opponents call “The Physician Imprisonment Act” because it would imprison a physician for up to 10 years for this medical practice, was one of several in recent years intended to gut the state Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Baxter v. Montana.

A bipartisan group of legislators voted 7-5 to table HB477. Earlier this month, the House voted 51-48 to pass the bill on the third and final reading after reversing course several times.

“This is the third session in a row that we have fought these frivolous bills,” said Emily Bentley, Compassion & Choices Montana Campaign Manager. “Physicians across Montana have prescribed aid-in-dying medication for five years without incident. It’s time for opponents of freedom to move on.”

A 2013 poll showed 69% 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. The court did not rule one way or the other on constitutional grounds.