Montana Becomes Third State to Legalize Assisted Suicide as Judge Rules Again

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 9, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicide Now Officially Legal in Montana as Judge Rules Again

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 9
, 2009

Helena, MT ( — Montana officially became the third state to allow assisted suicide as a state judge ruled again on the issue. Helena District Judge Dorothy McCarter handed down her ruling allowing the practice in December and, this week, ruled again by dismissing a request for an injunction during the appeal.

McCarter decided in December that a terminally ill patient Robert Baxter and mentally competent, terminally ill Montana residents like him can self-administer lethal drugs given to them in prescriptions from willing doctors.

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath has filed an appeal of the decision and asked Judge McCarter for a temporary injunction preventing assisted suicides from occurring while the appeal proceeds.

McCarter declined and her ruling means assisted suicides can move ahead as of Wednesday without patients or doctors fearing prosecution.

Wesley J. Smith, an attorney who is a leading bioethics watchdog, condemned McCarter’s refusal to stop assisted suicides while the case moves along.

"When a very controversial ruling comes down from our rulers in black robes, it is customary that pending an appeal to the highest court, the decision be stayed–that is suspended–until the final decision from a higher court is in," he said.

"Judges are becoming too arrogant for our good as a nation," Smith lamented. "Culture-rending changes in law and morality should not be decided undemocratically by promoting a judge’s own ideology through wrenching and twisting constitutional terms to mean things that were not intended when they were enacted."

The case has also taken an odd twist as McGrath has since been sworn in as the chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court, but has said he will recuse himself once the high court takes the appeal.

Another battle could also come into play in the state legislature as Rep. Dick Barrett, a Missoula Democrat, has filed legislation that put McCarter’s ruling into law with a bill to officially legally assisted suicide.

McCarter had initially misused the privacy provision in the state Constitution, intended to oppose wiretapping and other surveillance, to say that patients have a right to an assisted suicide without legal consequences.

Following the decision, the Montana Medical Association indicated it refused to get involved and came under fire for not submitting an amicus brief supporting McCarter’s attempt to overturn the ruling.

Montana joins Oregon and Washington as the only three states in the nation to allow assisted suicides.

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