Four months after a District Court judge ruled that physician-assisted suicide is a right protected under Montana's Constitution, terminally ill patients say they're having trouble finding physicians willing to prescribe drugs that would hasten their deaths.
Denver-based advocacy group Compassion & Choices held a conference call to read a statement from a 67-year-old Missoula woman who is dying of ovarian cancer.
"I feel as though my doctors do not feel able to respect my decision to choose aid in dying," Janet Murdock said. "Access to physician aid in dying would restore my hope for a peaceful, dignified death in keeping with my values and beliefs."
After District Judge Dorothy McCarter's December ruling, the Montana Medical Association adopted a policy that states the group: "does not condone the deliberate act of precipitating the death of a patient." The policy states that the organization acknowledges that some treatments to eliminate pain and suffering could hasten a patient's death, but "does not accept the proposition that death with dignity may be achieved only through physician-assisted suicide."
Kirk Stoner, president of the state medical association, says assisted suicide goes against the group's ethics.
"Our reason for being is to care for our patients," he said.
Advocates for physician-assisted suicide said they hope doctors will come forward to treat people like Murdock.
"It's really sad," said Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer for Compassion & Choices. "Here we are after the ruling and Janet Murdock can't exercise that right."
Tucker said she did not know how many people, if any, have been assisted in dying by a doctor in Montana since McCarter made her Dec. 5 ruling that mentally sound, terminally ill Montanans have a constitutional right to choose to end their lives using medication prescribed by doctors. The ruling also protects prescribing physicians from liability under the state's homicide laws.