Washington, Washington state

Montana Judge OKs Assisted Suicide

December 08, 2008 11:25 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
A Montana judge has ruled that assisted suicides are permissible in the state, disappointing those who believe the decision belongs to the state legislature.

Montana Becomes Third State to Allow Physician-Assisted Suicides

On Dec. 5, 2008, Montana became the third state in the country to allow assisted suicide. According to KULR-8 Television, “mentally competent, terminally ill” patients now have the right to end their own lives if they choose, and doctors can help them without fear of retribution.

Judge Dorothy McCarter made her decision in a lawsuit filed against the state and several other parties by Robert Baxter, who is terminally ill with cancer. According to the Associated Press, Baxter released a statement saying, “I am glad to know that the court respects my choice to die with dignity if my situation becomes intolerable.” Baxter continued, “It comforts me to know that my doctor can prescribe medications that I can take to bring about a peaceful death, that I can gather my loved ones and die with dignity in my own home.”

During Baxter’s hearing, state Attorney General Mike McGrath’s office said a decision about assisted suicide should be made by Montana’s state legislature, not the court system. Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Anders pointed out that the state has no oversight or regulations in place to help control the matter.

Attorney General McGrath could soon be in a position to overturn the ruling, as he will be sworn in as chief justice of the state supreme court in January. McGrath said he believes the state will appeal the ruling. “It’s a major constitutional issue and the Supreme Court should rule on it,” he told the Associated Press.

Background: Physician-assisted suicide surfaces on Election Day

On Nov. 4, voters in Washington State supported Initiative 1000, which is similar to Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” law that allows terminally ill, mentally competent people to choose to end their own lives.

Critics of the measure expressed concern that depressed or otherwise vulnerable individuals who feel they are a bother to their families would take advantage of physician-assisted suicide unnecessarily, according to The Seattle Times.

Others, however, felt the option was empowering. “This is a very personal decision,” Anne Martens, spokeswoman for Yes on I-1000, told the paper. “I wouldn’t make this decision for anybody else and I don’t want anybody else making it for me.”

For supporters of the measure, this was the “best-funded drive for physician-assisted suicide ever,” according to The Olympian.
The Catholic Church was the primary opponent to the assisted-suicide idea, but the church didn’t fight the initiative as strongly as it had in the past.

Related Topic: Physician-assisted suicide in Oregon

Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide 11 years ago, and the passage of time has not turned “the worst fears” into reality, according to The New York Times. “Large numbers of people have not moved to Oregon to take advantage of the measure.” In fact, no other state has ever passed an assisted suicide law.

Other states have tried to follow Oregon’s lead. However, voters in California, Michigan and Maine all rejected similar proposals. Even Washington voters previously rejected an assisted-suicide bill in 1991, The Seattle Times reported.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines