Montana Physician Imprisonment Act Voted Down by Senate After House Approved It

Vote to uphold medical aid in dying for terminally ill Montanans
April 5, 2019

End-of-life liberty is protected in Montana and it remains an authorized state for terminally ill patients to seek medical aid in dying. The full Montana Senate today voted today on second reading, against a House-approved bill that would have allowed 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 failed to pass when a bipartisan majority of 27 senators, including seven Republicans, voted no vs. 22 senators who voted yes.

HB 284 is the fifth failed legislative attempt in a decade to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s 2009 Baxter decision authorizing medical aid in dying. The court ruled that medical aid in dying specifically deferred to a patient’s own decisions and affords terminal patients the right to die on their own terms. After today’s vote, this end-of-life freedom remains intact.

If charged with and convicted for deliberate homicide under this failed “Physician Imprisonment Act,” doctors who honor their patients’ wishes would have faced no less than 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of death.  

Amy Hetzler, Montana Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices and Missoula resident stated: “We thank the Senate for rejecting this bill that would have allowed the state to prosecute physicians for giving terminally ill patients the option of medical aid in dying when no other treatment option provides relief for their suffering. This legislative triumph upholds the legacy of Bob Baxter’s selfless legal fight as he was dying to authorize medical aid in dying for terminally ill Montanans and upholds his family’s legacy as active champions protecting this end-of-life freedom.”

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 a Global Strategy Group survey in April 2013.

Roberta King from Missoula, daughter of Bob Baxter said: “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 and today the Senate voted against HB 284 to support what my father advocated so hard for.”

Eric Kress, MD, a Missoula resident and family physician for over 30 years, stated: “I am extremely grateful that Senate members listened to the voices of supporters, advocates and the terminally ill from across the state to defeat this physician imprisonment act. This bill would have taken away a terminally ill patient’s ability to obtain a prescription for medical aid in dying, a personal freedom that the citizens of Montana deserve.  

I am a physician who would have been thrown in prison and subjected to the death penalty had HB 284 passed, and my terminally ill patients would have suffered greatly as a result.”

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