Montana Won’t See Bills Limiting Assisted Suicide, State Must Pay Attorney Fees

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 23, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Montana Won’t See Bills Limiting Assisted Suicide, State Must Pay Attorney Fees

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 23
, 2009

Helena, MT ( — After a district court judge issued a ruling that would make Montana the third state to legalize assisted suicide, both sides of the debate were expected to file legislation. However, it appears bills either legalizing or limiting assisted suicide won’t see any debate during the current legislative session.

District Judge Dorothy McCarter issued a ruling that the state has appealed that would overturn Montana’s laws prohibiting assisted suicide.

Following that decision, Rep. Dick Barrett, a Missoula Democrat who agreed with the ruling, was expected to file legislation that would implement the rules and requirements for allowing the grisly practice.

But his bill was not officially introduced, meaning it is dead for the session.

Rep. Julie French, a Scobey Democrat, was going to introduce a stricter bill but she declined to introduce it as well and cited concerns about a contentious debate.

Montana Family Foundation president Jeff Laszloffy says he is glad that the bills didn’t move ahead if only because they would have officially legalized assisted suicide in Montana.

He is hoping the Supreme Court will overturn McCarter’s decision and explained to the Bozeman Chronicle that the legislators are hoping the state’s high court affirms the decision and issues more guidelines for how assisted suicide will play out.

“They’re all hoping the Supreme Court will modify the ruling. If not, this is still out there for a year-and-a-half before the Legislature can act,” he said.

Laszloffy is worried the high court will just uphold the ruling and Montana will be left with “wide-open, no-rules-at-all” assisted suicide — going even further than Oregon and Washington, where a new law allowing assisted suicide goes into place next month.

Meanwhile, McCarter has asked that state officials pay attorney fees for the now-deceased man who filed the original lawsuit to overturn the assisted suicide ban.

Judy Beck, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Steve Bullock, said his office received the order from McCarter on Friday. She indicated the attorneys have 20 days to essentially submit a bill to the state for their time.

On January 27, the state filed its papers to appeal the decision and the case should move ahead this Spring with legal papers on both sides.

In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that patients had a right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment and, in 1997, the court ruled unanimously that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide but that states may ban or allow the practice.

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