My name is Leslie Mutchler, and just over a week ago my 36-year-old son, TJ, chose to end his pain and suffering caused by terminal pancreatic cancer. TJ was able to do this by using his prescription for medical aid in dying as authorized through a state Supreme Court ruling. TJ did not want to die; the cancer took his life. But his ability to have peace and dignity at the end was a blessing for him and our family.
Although I never imagined that TJ would need medical aid in dying for himself, we were well aware of the issue as a family. It was my father and TJ’s grandfather, Bob Baxter, who with the help of Compassion & Choices prevailed in the landmark case Baxter v. Montana in 2009 — the case that authorized the practice. We always called it the “grandpa law.” Sadly, Dad died before the case was decided and couldn’t use aid in dying, but we are so thankful that he persevered so TJ might have the option.
The day after TJ’s peaceful death, a cruel bill was introduced in the Montana Legislature that would not only outlaw the practice of aid in dying but criminalize doctors for helping their patients when they need them the most. House bill 536 says that doctors who prescribe aid-in-dying medication could be charged with homicide, a crime punishable by the death penalty in Montana! I am outraged that doctors could be accused of murder for helping their dying patients find peace in their final days, and the people of Montana need to let lawmakers know that this is absolutely reprehensible.
On Friday the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill, and I was able to testify in opposition. But many of my fellow Montanans, some of whom drove across the state to be there, were unable to give testimony because the committee shut down the debate after only 15 minutes for each side. And just this morning, the committee passed this draconian measure on a 10-9 vote, so it now goes to the full House floor for a vote that could happen at any time.
Every voice deserves to be heard on such a critical issue, and we will continue to stand united to defeat this bill. I think Ethel Byrnes of Missoula said it beautifully in her testimony: “Please think of the terrible consequences for those physicians who would be criminals under HB 536 for an act … they consider to be an act of compassion; an act that is in alignment with the values and beliefs of the dying person. HB 536 is not good policy for Montana, a state that prides itself on freedom, privacy and independence.”
The government and the personal opinions of lawmakers have no place in the private medical decisions made between terminally ill people, their families and their medical team. My father knew this, and TJ directly benefited from that wisdom. Help us fight to retain this right that has been so important to my family. Someday, it may be just as important for you or someone you love.
I hope you will also take a moment to forward this email to your friends, family and neighbors. The more awareness we can bring to my family’s story, the more people will see the incredible importance of protecting this freedom.