Montana Senate Blocks Physician Imprisonment Act

Vote preserves the right of terminally ill Montanans to access a peaceful death
March 1, 2021

The Montana Senate today failed to approve a bill that would have allowed the state to prosecute doctors and imprison them, simply for writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication for a mentally capable terminally ill adult who requests it to peacefully end their suffering. 

The roll call was a tie, 25 to 25, with both Democrats and Republicans opposing the bill.  In the Montana legislature bills must receive a majority vote to advance. 

“This is truly government overreach, right into your death bed,” said Senator Diane Sands (District 49) during the Senate floor debate. “It removes the right of the individual to consent, and to die with compassion and in a peaceful and pain-free way. Aid in dying is not suicide, it is not euthanasia. We should preserve the right of compassionate care at the end of our lives.”

Compassion & Choices President and CEO Kim Callinan

Compassion & Choices President and CEO Kim Callinan

“This vote is a victory for terminally ill Montanans and the doctors who provide their patients with the option of a peaceful death,” said Compassion & Choices President and CEO Kim Callinan. “We thank the Senate for recognizing that patients, in consultation with their doctors and loved ones, should make the decision about end-of-life care, and not lawmakers.”

At a hearing last week, Senate Judiciary Committee members heard from dozens of Montanans who oppose the bill, including doctors, hospice workers, people living with a terminal illness, and the family members of those who’ve utilized medical aid in dying. Despite this overwhelming opposition, the committee voted 7-4 along party lines to recommend the bill be heard by the full Senate. 

Family Nurse Practitioner Leslie Mutchler testified at the hearing that her son, TJ Mutchler, used medical aid in dying when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer at age 36. “TJ gained so much peace of mind when he got the prescription, and ultimately the medications, knowing he could be in control at the end,” she told the committee.

Medical aid in dying allows a mentally capable, terminally ill adult with six months or less to live the option to request a prescription from their doctor that they can choose to take if their suffering becomes unbearable. The medication allows them to die peacefully in their sleep at a time of their choosing.

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.

SB 290 would have overturned 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.”

Compassion & Choices
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