In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Baxter v. State of Montana. At issue was whether or not the Montana Constitution guaranteed people the right to physician-assisted suicide. In the end, the Court said assisting in a suicide remains defined as a “homicide,” but if a physician assists in a suicide and is charged with homicide, then, in a very narrow set of circumstances, they might be able to claim the “consent of the victim” as a defense. That’s it. That’s as far as the decision went.
But the folks at Compassion and Choices, the old Hemlock Society, shouted from the rooftops that assisted suicide is legal in Montana. The Montana Family Foundation commissioned a legal analysis of the Court’s decision by the state’s top homicide attorney. And he agreed with our assertion, that assisted suicide was still illegal except in a set of circumstances so incredibly narrow that they would be almost impossible for a terminally ill patient to meet.
This sent the issue back to the legislature and set up a battle that’s been going on for the past seven years; namely, how to put something in law that accurately reflects the court’s decision. Our side contends assisting a suicide is still defined as homicide, so the law should reflect that. The concern is that that sets up the possibility that someone would assist in a suicide just to set up a test case, which would allow our liberal Supreme Court to revisit the issue and possibly declare full-blown assisted suicide to be legal in Montana. Those in favor of assisted suicide have brought forward bill after bill to set up protocols and procedures for the process that they contend is now legal. Both bills have been killed in every legislative session since the decision was rendered, so the issue itself hangs in legal limbo with both sides claiming victory; that is, until this session.
In a new twist, those in favor of assisted suicide failed to bring a bill forward, and our side decided to try a new tactic. The result was House Bill 536 scheduled for a hearing in House Judiciary tomorrow, Friday, February 24th. Unlike previous attempts, this bill uses the Court’s own words and says that when it comes to suicide, “the consent of the victim is not a defense.” It’s straightforward and simple. It protects the provisions already in law and avoids which of the narrow set of circumstances might rise to the level of legitimate consent.
It’s interesting that the same folks who are asking the legislature for more money for teen suicide prevention are the same ones advocating suicide for adults. It’s illogical, as is so much of what happens at the legislature. When it comes to assisted suicide, it’s important that it be stopped in its tracks. In those countries that have legalized it, it always eventually leads to the legalization of involuntary euthanasia, better described as state-sanctioned homicide. To make your voice heard on this crucial issue, please call the members of the House Judiciary Committee and ask them to vote “yes” on House Bill 536. That number is 444.4800. That’s 444.4800.