Montana Supreme Court issues weak decision on physician-assisted suicide


In its final decision of 2009, the Supreme Court of Montana denied victory to pro-euthanasia group “Compassion & Choices” on its quest for a right to “aid in dying” based on the Montana State Constitution.

In a split decision issued on December 31, the Supreme Court rejected the existence of a right to physician-assisted suicide and focused on issues of statutory construction to determine that Montana state law has no public policy against “aid in dying” because the final death causing act lies in the patient's hands, explained the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

In reaction, the EPC said in their statement that “the bright spot in the decision is that it does not give physicians the ‘right’ to prescribe a lethal dose, but only suggests that circumstances may exist to give them a defense to prosecution for homicide.”

Nevertheless, according to EPC, the decision “ignores the practical realities of ensuring patient safety from over-eager heirs, new ‘best friends’ and others who might benefit from the patient's death. For example, physicians who malpractice and who want to hide their mistakes can now say: ‘It was what the patient wanted.’ The evidence against the physician dies with the patient. If the patient has no family or other advocate, who will know?”

Eileen Geller, hospice RN and president of True Compassion Advocates, stated in a press release that “in practice, this means that while assisted suicide is still not legal in Montana, the Court has nevertheless stripped vulnerable patients of important legal protections. The ruling is a recipe for elder abuse and for the victimization of ill people.”

According to Geller, “the Montana Supreme Court expressly declined to hold that a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide exists under the Montana constitution. The Montana legislature must now step up to the plate, re-affirm over a hundred years of Montana public policy, and protect elderly, ill, and Montanans with disabilities.”

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