End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Posts TaggedBaxter

Huge Victory: Aid in Dying Preserved in Montana

by Compassion & Choices staff
April 17, 2013

Choice at life’s end scored a major victory yesterday! The Montana Senate defeated a bill to criminalize aid in dying, which was made legal by the 2009 state Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana.

As a Compassion & Choices supporter, you share credit for this impressive win. We prevailed against anti-choice zealots who worked for more than three years to undo the landmark Baxter ruling and quash the right of terminally ill Montanans to die with dignity on their own terms.

Make no mistake: This is a resounding victory for Compassion & Choices, our supporters in Montana and across the country, and for the principle of self-determination. Please take a few moments to savor it and the extraordinary effort that made it possible.

1) The Montana Senate actually reversed course to defeat HB505. We called it the “Physician Imprisonment Act of 2013″ because it would have incarcerated doctors for up to 10 years for providing aid in dying to terminal patients. Once predicted to pass, the bill was defeated instead, by a bipartisan vote of 27-23.

2) The Senate vote was the direct result of sustained on-the-ground activism by Compassion & Choices Montana. For more than two years, this dynamic campaign fielded staff and volunteers to alert residents to the threat of HB505. Its multi-tactical campaign included:

• an education drive that reached tens of thousands of Montanans in all corners of the state and encouraged them to telephone their legislators and otherwise make their voice heard;
radio and print ads urging Montanans to contact their legislators to oppose the bill;
outreach to newspaper editorial boards and other opinion leaders, and an aggressive letter-to-the-editor campaign;
mobilization of doctors to publicly oppose the bill and affirm their support for the practice of aid in dying;
in-person lobbying of lawmakers in Helena and their home districts;
social media and other efforts to spread the word and summon voters to action.

3) A high point in our campaign came when long-time supporter Dr. Eric Kress, a family physician at Western Montana Clinic, publicly disclosed that he had written aid-in-dying prescriptions for three of his patients since the 2009 Baxter decision.

Dr. Kress narrated our radio ad, appeared in print ads, authored a powerful op-ed for The Missoulian newspaper and delivered courageous testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We cannot overstate the importance of his eloquent and persuasive support, and the influence it had on lawmakers and the public alike.

4) We backed up our advocacy with a poll of Montana voters, which confirmed that 73 percent opposed HB505 and 67 percent were less likely to vote for a legislator who supported it.

5) The victory maintains Montana’s status as the third state where aid in dying is expressly legal. That status was the direct result of Compassion & Choices’ landmark Baxter v. Montana lawsuit, which confirmed that physician aid in dying did not violate state public policy in Montana.

6) The victory also underscores the growing level of public willingness to take personal action to defend the right to death with dignity, and to oppose zealots who seek to pass draconian laws like HB505 and use misinformation, scare tactics, moral judgments and other means to deny people their most sacred rights at life’s end.

Special thanks goes to the thousands of Montanans who took action to defeat HB505, and to hundreds of Compassion & Choices Montana volunteers who worked the phones, knocked on doors, talked to neighbors and loved ones, and otherwise devoted themselves to make sure that truth and reason prevailed.

Without our shared commitment, HB505 would be law today. The fact that it isn’t is a true testament to the leadership of Compassion & Choices Montana and the dedication of our wonderful supporters.

BCL and JG Sign

Bill to Imprison Doctors for Aid in Dying Defeated in Montana Legislature

CONTACT: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524, seancrowley57@gmail.com
Jessica Grennan, 202-699-2738, JGrennan@compassionandchoices.org

Senate Reverses Course from Last Week

(Helena, Mont. – Apr. 15, 2013) The nation’s leading end-of-life choice advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, praised the Montana Senate today for reversing course and rejecting a House-passed bill that would imprison doctors for up to 10 years if they provide aid in dying to terminally ill patients. The 27-23 bipartisan vote against the so-called Doctor Imprisonment Act, HB505, came after both Democrats and Republicans spoke out against the legislation. Just last week, the Senate voted 31-17 to approve a motion to “blast” the legislation out of committee to the Senate floor.

“This bipartisan vote is a win for Montanans and the doctors who honor the wishes of their terminally ill patients by supporting their choice to die with dignity on their own terms,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, a nurse and physician assistant for 25 years before becoming a private attorney and a Chief Petitioner of the first-in-the nation 1994 Oregon Death with Dignity Act. “The legislature did the right thing by honoring the wishes of the vast majority of Montanans who don’t want the government dictating their medical treatment at the end of their lives. Today’s vote is in line with the national trend to approve aid in dying, not criminalize it.”

If HB 505 had become law, it would have gutted a 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Montana, a case brought by Compassion & Choices. The court confirmed it does not violate state public policy in Montana for a physician to provide aid in dying to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult.

“If HB505 had passed, I could have gone to prison for providing the medical care my terminally ill patients request,” said Dr. Eric Kress, a family physician at Western Montana Clinic, who has written aid in dying prescriptions for three patients since the Baxter decision. Kress narrated a statewide radio campaign opposing HB 505, appeared in print ads featuring quotes from other doctors opposed to HB 505 and authored an oped opposing HB 505 published last week in The Missoulian. “The overwhelmingly positive public support I have received has strengthened my resolve to ensure this right is never taken away.”

In contrast to Montana, efforts promoting patient choice at the end-of-life are underway in numerous other diverse states, including Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont. In February, the Vermont Senate gave final approval to a “Death with Dignity” bill that would protect doctors from criminal or civil liability when treating terminally ill patients who choose to end their lives.

A national poll last May by Republican pollster Frank Luntz showed 84 percent of voters agree that: “How a terminally ill person chooses to end his/her life should be an individual decision and not a government decision.”

A poll of 605 likely Montana voters conducted this month by Global Strategy Group shows 73 percent of them oppose HB 505, including 81 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans. The poll also reveals that 67 percent of voters will be less likely to vote for a legislator who supported HB 505, including 53 percent who said they will be much less likely. Nearly seven out 10 voters (69%) 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, including 48% who strongly support such a choice.

Montana Committee’s Vote Preserves Right to Aid in Dying

The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee today maintained the Montana Supreme Court’s Baxter ruling. The committee voted 7 to 5 against Sen. Greg Hinkle’s bill (SB 116), that would have revoked the right of terminally ill patients to request aid in dying from their physicians. A bipartisan group of lawmakers – Sens. Augare (D), Blewett (D), Jent (D), Larsen (D), Moss (D), Peterson (R) and Vincent (R) – voted against the measure. The committee heeded testimony from doctors, patients, family members, hospice nurses and clergy, and its vote was consistent with the official positions of both the Montana Medical Association and the National Association of Social Workers Montana Chapter. The committee’s vote leaves responsibility to develop the standard of care for aid in dying with Montana’s medical community.

The Montana Supreme Court on December 31, 2009, in Baxter v. Montana, recognized that the statutes empowering patients to direct their end-of-life care, even when decisions may advance the time of death, reflect public policy in favor of patient autonomy. The court ruling recognizes that it is the public policy of Montana to protect the choice of competent dying patients to choose aid in dying, and makes clear that there is no basis to prosecute physicians who provide it. Today’s vote leaves that ruling intact.

Roberta King, of Missoula, whose father, Bob Baxter, was the lead plaintiff in the landmark case, said, “My father died without the peace and dignity he so dearly wanted for himself and others. I’m sure he would be deeply gratified that other terminally ill Montanans will have the choice and comfort that aid in dying affords them.”

Missoula attorney Mark Connell, who argued the case before the Montana Supreme Court, described the decision as “a victory for individual rights over government control. These are decisions that should be – and now can continue to be – made by the terminally ill patients whose lives, deaths and suffering are at stake, based on their own religious, spiritual and family beliefs.” Connell added: “I know Bob Baxter would be very pleased that the committee declined to over-ride the court’s ruling. Doctors who practice within the clear confines of the court’s decision are protected.”

“The people of Montana strongly support the Baxter decision,” said Sen. Anders Blewett. “I have heard from many elderly Montanans who live in my district on this issue. They are proud of their independence, and believe the power to make their own end-of-life decisions belongs to them, in consultation with their doctor, not to the State of Montana, nor to any organization or institution.”

“The committee’s votes leave the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in place,” said Dr. Stephen Speckart, an oncologist from Missoula. “It now falls to Montana physicians to develop the standard of care to respect and protect their patients’ end-of-life decisions. Montana’s medical community is certainly up to the task of including aid in dying in the options available for patients with end-stage cancer and other terminal diseases.”

The committee also voted last week to table Sen. Blewett’s bill (SB 167), deciding not to adopt specific practice guidance and immunities.

“It is unfortunate that the committee did not go further to codify the court’s decision, providing physicians with additional protections for honoring patients’ decisions,” said Dr. Speckart. “However, Montana’s medical community can rest assured the Senate Judiciary committee examined this issue closely, and concluded that it is proper public policy for physicians to respect a dying patient’s decisions.”

Steve Johnson, a Helena brain cancer patient, said, “I think I should have something to say about my ending. I want my physician to be able to respect and honor my choice to die with dignity. I don’t know whether I would ultimately take medication to end my life peacefully, but I’d like to have the choice.”

Click to Watch: Niki Zupanic Testifies in Montana

ACLU representative Niki Zupanic supports the Montana Death with Dignity Act at hearings before the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee.

Niki Zupanic urges the committee to vote YES on SB 167, which would codify physician aid in dying for terminally ill Montanans.

Click to Watch: Dr. Stephen Speckart Testifies in Montana

Dr. Stephen Speckart supports the Montana Death with Dignity Act at hearings before the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee.

Dr. Speckart urges the committee to vote YES on SB 167, which would codify physician aid in dying for terminally ill Montanans.