Physicians, Family Members of Terminally Ill Montanans and Advocates Urge Continued Access to Medical Aid in Dying at House Judiciary Committee Hearing

Legislators threaten doctors with capital punishment for providing terminally ill patients end-of-life option when no other treatment provides relief for suffering
January 29, 2019

The Montana House Judiciary Committee today held a hearing on a 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.

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.

Mary Anne Guggenheim, MD, former member of the Montana State Legislature, stated: “In Montana, we have strong legal guidelines and public support for how we care for the terminally ill. We have had medical aid in dying for almost 10 years without evident abuse. Let Montanans continue to have the ability to make thoughtful, sound decisions for their own lives, and death.”

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.”

Roberta King, daughter of Bob Baxter and Missoula resident, testified: “I’m here to urge you to keep this option in place, the one my dad should have had. I believe, like my dad did, that people suffering the pain and anguish of a prolonged terminal illness should be allowed to make the decision about how their life ends, with the support of family and loved ones and the aid of their physician. HB 284 would destroy what my father fought for until the moment of his death.”

Amy Hetzler, Montana Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices and Missoula resident, testifies before the Montana House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 29, 2019.

“Medical aid in dying enabled my son, TJ, to enjoy the last few months of his life, knowing he could peacefully end his suffering when it became unbearable,” said Bob Baxter’s daughter, Leslie Mutchler, a nurse practitioner from Billings. Her son, TJ Mutchler, was Baxter’s grandson. He utilized medical aid in dying on Feb. 19, 2017. “ I hope and pray our lawmakers stop trying to criminalize compassionate doctors who want to honor their suffering patients’ wishes to die peacefully.”

Before his death, Compassion & Choices released a video featuring TJ and Leslie Mutchler urging Montana lawmakers not to advance legislation to criminalize medical aid in dying, as they have done in every legislative session since the Baxter ruling. The video is posted at: compassionandchoices.org/TJmutch

Doris Fischer, Compassion & Choices advocate and Sheridan resident whose husband Richard died of ALS without the option of medical aid in dying, stated: “Despite wonderful hospice care, Richard suffered greatly at the end of his life, often feeling as though he were suffocating. He could have had great peace of mind and comfort if he had the choice to utilize medical aid in dying, but he didn’t get that option, as he died before the supreme court ruling on the Baxter case. But now we adults do have this option in Montana. On Richard’s behalf and on behalf of all terminally ill adults in our state, I urge you not to take this vital, end-of-life option away.”

Amy Hetzler, Montana Campaign Manager for Compassion & Choices and Missoula resident stated: “Terminally ill Montanans should continue to have the full range of end-of-life options, whether for disease-specific treatment, palliative care, refusal of life-prolonging treatment and the right to request aid-in-dying medication to shorten a prolonged and difficult dying process. This bill is an irresponsible piece of legislation that seeks to erode the rights of Montanans at the end of life.”

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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