The Montana Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the state’s constitution protects physicians from being prosecuted for homicide if they prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who ask for them.
Montana court hears arguments on physician-assisted death
A lawsuit challenging the state’s homicide statute was filed by Robert Baxter, a 75-year-old retired trucker suffering from lymphocytic leukemia who since has died. He was joined in the lawsuit by four physicians—none of whom treated Baxter but who said they had been put in the position of refusing the legitimate wishes of patients for fear of prosecution—and Compassion & Choices, a national organization that advocates physician-assisted death as an option in end-of-life care.
The court’s seven justices probed the plaintiffs’ lawyer and the state solicitor about proper application of the state constitution’s strongly worded protection of individual dignity and whether a more narrow solution would be to recognize a patient’s consent as a defense if a physician faces prosecution.
The state’s First Judicial District Court in Helena, Mont., ruled in December 2008 that “a terminally ill patient has the constitutional right to die with dignity” rooted in the state constitution’s protection of privacy and “inviolable” individual dignity.
Just two states—Oregon and most recently Washington— allow physicians-assisted suicide. The laws in both states were adopted though ballot initiatives.
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