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Montana

Current Status

Montana does not have a Death with Dignity statute and there is no legislative activity around Death with Dignity in Montana in the current legislative session. However, the end-of-life option is legal in the state through the state Supreme Court ruling.

In the 2017 session, Montana State Representative Brad Tschida (R-Missoula) sponsored HB 536, which states that “physician aid in dying is against public policy, and a patient’s consent to physician aid in dying is not a defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician.” A hearing for this bill criminalizing a physician’s writing of a life-ending prescription took place on February 24, 2017; on February 28, the bill passed in the Montana State House on a second reading 52 to 48, only to fail on March 1 on the final vote, a 50-50 tie.

History

In December 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled 5-2, in Baxter v. Montana [pdf], that nothing in the state law prohibited a physician from honoring a terminally ill, mentally competent patient’s request by prescribing medication to hasten the patient’s death. The ruling cited the state’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act: because there is so little difference as a matter of public policy between taking a patient off life support and prescribing lethal medication that the patient can take, the Court determined that existing Montana law permits physician assisted dying under the circumstances of the Baxter case. Montana’s judicial approach to physician aid in dying remains unique.

In response to the Montana Supreme Court ruling, in 2011, a Death with Dignity Act, SB 167, and a bill prohibiting aid in dying were introduced in the state legislature for the first time. Neither passed; the same result occurred in subsequent legislative sessions, in 2013 (SB 220) and 2015 (SB 202). Similar bills, an Oregon-styled bill legalizing the option for the state residents and a bill banning physician-assisted dying, were introduced every year up to 2016. None of the proposals won passage in the legislature, and medical aid in dying remains legal by the Montana Supreme Court decision.

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