During the 2021 legislative session, legislators proposed a bill, SB290, that would imprison Montana physicians for honoring their patients wishes at the end of life. This legislation would remove the option that the state Supreme Court 2009 Baxter ruling provides for terminally ill, qualified Montanan's, to seek a peaceful death. Compassion & Choices supporters, doctors, storytellers and volunteers rallied across the state to keep this end-of-life option available in Montana. On March 1, 2021 the bill died in the Senate by a margin of 25-25.
Compassion & Choices has worked since 2009 to protect the Baxter ruling. The Montana legislature meets every two years.
The 2019 legislative session began January 7, 2019, and the session’s first legislative attempt to challenge the Baxter ruling (HB 284) was filed shortly thereafter. The 2019 “Physician Imprisonment Act” would have criminalized physicians who honor their patients’ final wishes by prescribing medical aid-in-dying medication. It was passed by the Montana House of Representatives before being defeated on second reading in the Montana Senate by a vote of 22-27 on April 5, 2019.
On February 21, 2017, Rep. Brad Tschida introduced a bill (HB 536) that would impose harsh penalties, including prison time, for doctors who participate in medical aid in dying. The bill was narrowly defeated on the House floor. Later that same year, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard SB 360, a bill that sought to undermine the Baxter v. Montana decision. Supporters sprung into action, including terminally-ill advocate TJ Mutchler, the courageous grandson of Baxter v. Montana plaintiff Bob Baxter. the committee rejected the bill in a bipartisan 4-7 vote.
During the 2015 legislative session, once again advocates defended access to medical aid in dying. Two bills that would have reversed the Baxter decision, HB 477 and HB 328, were successfully defeated by our intrepid volunteers and supporters.
In July 2014, Montana disability rights advocate Dustin Hankinson was featured in a video marking the anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. New Mobility magazine for wheelchair users published an editorial making a historic move from opposed to neutral on the issue of medical aid in dying.
2014 also marked the five year anniversary of the Baxter decision and prompted the production of Five Years of Dignity, a magazine detailing the progress of the end-of-life care movement in Montana.
In March 2013, Dr. Eric Kress became the first physician to speak publicly about providing medical aid in dying via testimony and a a statewide newspaper editorial that received national attention in the New York Times. Dr. Kress’s legislative testimony helped defeat two bills that would have criminalized physicians who choose to write perscriptions for medical aid-in-dying medications in accordance with their patients’ end-of-life wishes.
In 2007, Bob Baxter, suffering from lymphocytic leukemia, served as lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Compassion & Choices. Baxter asked the courts to affirm his legal right to die in a peaceful and dignified manner by taking medication prescribed by his doctor for that purpose.
Medical aid in dying became available in Montana when the state Supreme Court ruled in Baxter’s favor, in 2009, finding that “[The] Rights of the Terminally Ill Act clearly provides that terminally ill patients are entitled to autonomous end-of-life decisions.”