Montana House Judiciary Committee Advances Physician Imprisonment Act

Families of Terminally Ill Montanans, Physicians and Supporters Urge Lawmakers to Allow Continued Access to Medical Aid in Dying
February 12, 2019

The Montana House Judiciary Committee today voted 10-9 to advance a bill (HB 284) that would allow the state to imprison, and potentially sentence doctors to the death penalty, for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication for a terminally ill adult who requests it to peacefully end their suffering.  The bill now moves to the House floor.

Introduced by Rep. Carl Glimm (R-Montana State House District 6), HB 284 states: aid in dying is against public policy, and a patient’s consent to physician aid in dying is not a defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician. Deliberate homicide in Montana is punishable by a maximum sentence of the death penalty and minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

HB 284 would overturn the 2009 Montana Supreme Court decision in a suit filed by Compassion & Choices on behalf of a terminally ill truck driver from Billings, Bob Baxter. The court ruled in the case, Baxter v. Montana, that: “…we find no indication in Montana law that physician aid in dying provided to terminally ill, mentally competent adult patients is against public policy.”

Amy Hetzler, Montana Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices and Missoula resident stated: “Threatening doctors who want to offer their terminally ill patients the option of a peaceful death with homicide and the death penalty is beyond the pale. This bill is an irresponsible piece of legislation that seeks to erode the rights of Montanans at the end of life and takes away a freedom they have had for nearly 10 years.”

Roberta King, daughter of Bob Baxter said during the hearing: “People in this state pretty much believe that we know how to take care of ourselves without government interference. We trust our doctors to give us the best possible medical advice. The Montana Supreme Court was right to agree.”

Nearly 7 out of 10 Montana voters (69%) said they support allowing a mentally capable 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.

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