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Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing of “Doctor Imprisonment Bill” Showcased Thinly Veiled Attempt to Overturn Baxter v. Montana

(Helena, Mont. – Mar. 24, 2017) — The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 360 today, a bill introduced by Sen. Albert Olszewski (SD 6), that would allow the state of Montana to charge physicians with murder for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication for a terminally ill adult who requests it to peacefully end their suffering. The bill will move on to a vote in Executive Session.  

“Thanks to the vigilance of our team and advocates on the ground, we were able to act quickly to make our voices heard in today’s hearing and clarify the distinct differences between medical aid in dying, mercy killing and suicide for the Committee, terms that Sen. Olszewski used incorrectly and interchangeably,” stated Jessica Grennan, the Missoula-based National Director of Political Affairs and Advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “We also were able to call attention to this sneaky attempt to overturn the Baxter v. Montana decision through the testimonies of those who can best define what medical aid in dying is: families of terminally ill Montanans and people who defend physicians, something the opposition was not able to do.”

Decisions about death belong to the dying, and good policy allows them to have an open conversation with their doctors, their loved ones, and their faith leaders about their physical and spiritual needs at the end of life. With this change in law, doctors and family members risk prosecution from the state for attempts to fully discuss and enable all medical options at the end of life.

“Once again, I am here defending this end-of-life option that my son utilized just over a month ago to end his intolerable suffering from pancreatic cancer, an option that my father spent his final days fighting for,” said Leslie Mutchler, a nurse practitioner from Billings. Her son, TJ Mutchler, Bob Baxter’s grandson, passed away Feb. 17. “The Montana Supreme Court ruling made it clear that patients have the right to control their own bodies at the end of life. It’s time for legislators to stop threatening to jail doctors who provide this compassionate end-of-life medical care and allow Montanans to decide how they wish to spend their final days.”

Earlier this month, Compassion & Choices released a video featuring TJ and Leslie Mutchler (grandson and daughter of Bob Baxter) urging Montana lawmakers not to advance legislation to criminalize medical aid in dying, as they have done in every legislative session since the Baxter ruling. TJ Mutchler utilized medical aid in dying less than two months ago to end intolerable suffering from pancreatic cancer. The video is posted at: bit.ly/TJmutch

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.