Montana Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on House-Passed Physician Imprisonment Act

Physicians, Terminally Ill Montanans and Family Members Who’ve Lost Loved Ones Urge Senate to Preserve Terminally Ill Patients’ End-of-Life Freedom
March 21, 2019

The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee today held a hearing on a House-passed bill 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 committee did not take executive action today so there are no vote results at this time. The bill will remain in committee until the vote takes place.

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.”

“My dad suffered in agony, bravely fighting for the right of other Montanans to die peacefully if their suffering becomes intolerable,” said Leslie Mutchler, a nurse practitioner from Billings and daughter of Bob Baxter. “Our state lawmakers need to know how medical aid in dying enabled my 36-year-old son TJ, Bob Baxter’s grandson, to end his unbearable suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and die peacefully in his sleep two years ago. Threatening doctors who are willing to provide this end-of-life option to terminally ill patients with homicide and the death penalty is bad, cruel public policy.”

Amy Hetzler, Montana Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices and Missoula resident stated: “We are deeply disappointed that this draconian legislation has made it this far down the road this legislative session. This bill would allow 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. Lawmakers inserting their beliefs and government intervention into the private medical decisions that happen between terminally ill patients, their families and their medical team is unacceptable.”

Eric Kress, MD, a Missoula resident and family physician for over 30 years, stated: “I have written about 6-10 prescriptions per year for patients since the Baxter ruling in 2009.  My suffering, terminally ill patients and the families of those who suffer are grateful to me, as are other healthcare providers. All of us are grateful that our government, through the Baxter decision, has not been controlling our deeply personal decisions at the end of life.

HB 284 is a bill that would be a government taking of a personal freedom that the citizens of Montana deserve. Our lawmakers need to stop trying to control our deeply personal decisions at the end of life and leave the Baxter decision in place for the good of all their constituents.”

Chelsia Rice, Helena resident whose bladder cancer is in remission, testified: “If my cancer comes back, I’ll endure treatment again. My community, my family and my physician will be part of my journey of my choosing. Modern medicine provides many new options for treating cancer and I’m grateful for that.

Modern medicine also provides, in some states, the option for a terminally ill person to seek medical aid in dying to get relief from unbearable suffering. Knowing Montana is one of those states gives me peace of mind. Montanans value liberty and freedom in our lives. We value liberty and freedom in our death as well. A patient’s medical decisions should be one of their own choosing and not one determined by big government.”

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.

Compassion & Choices
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