Bill Seeks to Charge Doctors Assisting in Suicides

A 2009 state Supreme Court decision protects doctors from prosecution

By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN, Associated Press

HELENA — Montana lawmakers reopened debate Friday on whether doctors should face homicide charges for helping terminally ill patients die.

While a 2009 state Supreme Court decision protects doctors from prosecution, opponents of physician-assisted suicide again sought help from the Legislature to ban the practice.

“By definition, homicide is the act of one person being an accessory to or the direct cause of the death of another person. Therefore, helping another person commit suicide is by definition homicide,” said Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula.

Tschida told the House Judiciary Committee that allowing doctors help people die sends a mixed signal in a state with one of the nation’s highest suicide rates.

Opponents said making the bill law would prolong the pain of terminally ill people who want to end their lives.

Roberta King told lawmakers about her terminally ill father, Robert Baxter, who died from cancer in 2008, a year before Montana’s highest court issued its ruling. “His pain and suffering, and his wasting away, were unbearable to him,” she said.

The summer before he died, Baxter considered using a gun to kill himself, she said.

“If you pass this bill, that’s the kind of choice you are leaving people to make,” King said.

David King, a Belgrade physician, said making the bill state law would put physicians “at risk of the death penalty for aiding someone in the most private experience that we can knowingly go through.”

Supporters said doctors must preserve life and that their role is not to help people die.

“If assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse,” said Bradley Williams, who formed Montanans Against Assisted Suicide. “No safeguards have ever been enacted or even proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.”

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