The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee today voted 7 to 5 against Sen. Greg Hinkle’s bill (SB 116), that would have revoked the right of terminally ill patients to request aid in dying from their physicians. A bipartisan group of lawmakers – Sens. Augare (D), Blewett (D), Jent (D), Larsen (D), Moss (D), Peterson (R) and Vincent (R) – voted against the measure. The committee heeded testimony from doctors, patients, family members, hospice nurses and clergy, and its vote was consistent with the official positions of both the Montana Medical Association and the National Association of Social Workers Montana Chapter. The committee’s vote leaves responsibility to develop the standard of care for aid in dying with Montana’s medical community.
The Montana Supreme Court on December 31, 2009, in Baxter v. Montana, recognized that the statutes empowering patients to direct their end-of-life care, even when decisions may advance the time of death, reflect public policy in favor of patient autonomy. The court ruling recognizes that it is the public policy of Montana to protect the choice of competent dying patients to choose aid in dying, and makes clear that there is no basis to prosecute physicians who provide it. Today’s vote leaves that ruling intact.