A court case from 2009 has left Montana with an assisted suicide problem, and state lawmakers keep trying to fix it. On March 1st, Senate Bill 290 came up for a final vote but fell short by just one vote from advancing to a second reading. The bill would have allowed physicians prescribing an overdose of lethal drugs for patients to be charged with homicide. According to the Associated Press, some version of the bill has been advanced every year for a decade.
This year was expected to be different because Montana’s governor supported the proposed legislation, according to Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, who added that she hopes the measure will protect two of her grandchildren who have been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. “We are committed to walking with them through the hard days. I do not want you to send them the message when they have a tough day that suicide is an acceptable option,” she said, according to the AP.
The legislation was drawn up to close what some see as a “loophole” opened by the court case Baxter v. Montana, which shifted the blame for the act to the patient’s consent. Although assisted suicide is not explicitly legal in the state — there exists no statute claiming its legality — the state supreme court decision claimed that no state law prohibits the practice.
Opponents claimed that killing oneself with the aid of a doctor and suicide are different if the patient is terminally ill. “Medical aid in dying is not suicide. These patients are not depressed — they are dying. There is a very big difference,” said Dr. Colette Kirchhoff, a hospice and palliative care physician from Bozeman. “It’s a way to alleviate suffering.”
Montana has one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation. The bill’s sponsor, Carl Glimm, referenced this when introducing the bill. “Every session this body takes up legislation and spending bills to try and curb the suicide frequency in our veterans, our youth, and our Native American populations,” Glimm said, according to MTN News. “This bill is an opportunity to send a consistent message about suicide from young to old, to healthy to sick that it’s not a good option.”
Matt Brower, Executive Director of the Montana Catholic Conference, gave testimony on the bill, calling it “contrary to our commitment to the common good,” noting, “If we as a society say not only that it is ok for a population of our state to take their own lives but that, with the state’s approval, those who assist them can do so with impunity, what incentive is there for the state and society to put resources into hospice, palliative care, pain management, and mental health services?”
“Our law ought to make clear that our law prohibits physician-assisted suicide,” he added.
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