Montana is third state to allow aid in dying

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that terminally ill Montanans have the right to choose aid in dying under state law.

"This case was about the right of mentally competent, terminally ill patients to request a prescription for medication from their doctors which they can ingest to bring about a peaceful death," said Kathryn Tucker, co-counsel to the plaintiffs/respondents and legal director of Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization that advocates for improved care and expanded choice at the end of life. "The Montana Supreme Court has determined that this is a choice the public policy of Montana supports. Montanans trapped in an unbearable dying process deserve, and will now have, this end-of-life choice. This is the first state high court to find protection of this choice and makes clear that in Montana, patients are able to make this choice and physicians can provide this care without risking sanction."

Roberta King, of Missoula, the daughter of plaintiff Bob Baxter, said, "My father died without the peace and dignity he so dearly wanted for himself and others. He feared when he filed this lawsuit that he would not live long enough to benefit from it. 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."

Stephen Speckart, MD, a Missoula cancer specialist and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, "This decision affirms that a terminal patient's fundamental right to self-determination will guide end-of-life health decisions. I regularly treat patients dying from cancer, and many of these deaths are slow and painful. Terminal patients will no longer be forced to choose between unrelenting pain and an alert mental state as they approach the end of their lives from terminal diseases. The comfort this brings to their last days can have an immeasurable benefit."

Missoula attorney Mark Connell, who argued the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiff physicians and patients, described the decision as "a victory for individual rights over government control." Connell added: "The Montana Supreme Court has now recognized that, where intensely personal and private choices regarding end-of-life care are involved, Montana law entrusts those decisions to the individuals whose lives are at stake, not the government. I know Bob Baxter would be very pleased that the court has now reaffirmed that these choices should be left to the terminally ill people in our state."

The following groups had urged the court to find in favor of terminal patients' right to receive aid in dying from their physicians, according to Compassion & Choices: Montana State Sen. Christine Kaufmann, Rep. Dick Barrett, and 29 other state legislators; the American Medical Women's Association; the American Medical Students Association; the American College of Legal Medicine; the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana; the Montana Human Rights Network; and the Northwest Women's Law Center.