Montana Doctors, Hospitals, Refusing to Allow Patients to Have Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 6, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Montana Doctors, Hospitals, Refusing to Allow Patients to Have Assisted Suicide

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 6
, 2009

Helena, MT ( — Like their counterparts in Washington state, a large number of doctors and hospitals in Montana are refusing to engage in assisted suicides. The state is the third to allow the practice — at least until the Montana Supreme Court reviews a lower court’s decision overturning the state’s assisted suicide ban.

Four months after District Judge Dorothy McCarter opened the door for Montana to join Oregon and Washington in allowing the grisly practice, some potential suicide victims say they aren’t finding any doctors who will aide them.

Compassion & Choices, the national pro-euthanasia group based in Colorado, held a conference call with reporters on Friday to highlight one woman’s case.

"I feel as though my doctors do not feel able to respect my decision to choose aid in dying," pro-euthanasia officials read from a letter from 67-year-old Janet Murdock. "Access to physician aid in dying would restore my hope for a peaceful, dignified death in keeping with my values and beliefs."

Dr. Kirk Stoner, the president of the Montana Medical Association, responded to the letter in an interview with the Associated Press.

His group initially upset pro-life advocates by refusing to submit legal papers against McCarter’s decision to help state officials overturn it at the state supreme court.

He says he is not surprised that doctors are not stepping up to kill patients because they don’t view that as their proper role.

"Our reason for being is to care for our patients," he said.

Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer for Compassion & Choices, says he hopes physicians will step up to the plate to help patients kill themselves.

"It’s really said," she said. "Here we are after the ruling and Janet Murdock can’t exercise that right."

But Wesley J. Smith, a California attorney who is a noted bioethics watchdog, says the same spirit of non-cooperation with being complicit in assisted suicide that sprang to life in that state in the wake of the passage of I-1000 has spread to Montana. To him, that’s good news.

"I am sorry, nobody has the right to force doctors to have a patient’s blood on their hands. The woman has the right to medical care, palliation, and support of her community–and I hope she receives it," he explains.

"With proper care, she can be almost assured a peaceful passing. But while it is certainly true that she may have the right to ask for a lethal prescription–she doesn’t have the right to receive it–at least not yet," he adds.

"Because something is legal–in this matter due to judicial activism in the extreme–that doesn’t make it right," Smith continues. "I hope every doctor in Montana puts a plaque in his or her office declaring, ‘This is an assisted suicide free zone.’"

Smith says Compassion and Choices should focus on suicide prevention instead of making sure patients can kill themselves.

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