Montana Supreme Court Will Hold September Hearing on Assisted Suicide Lawsuit

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 21, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Montana Supreme Court Will Hold September Hearing on Assisted Suicide Lawsuit

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 21
, 2009

Helena, MT ( — The Montana Supreme Court has announced it will hear oral arguments in September on a case that could make the state the third to allow assisted suicide. If the state’s high court affirms a lower court ruling, then Montana could have the most permissive assisted suicide situation in the country.

Oregon became the first state allowing assisted suicide following two statewide votes and legal battles. Washington voters made the Pacific coast state the second last November after approving I-1000.

Playing off of a pro-abortion decision the state’s high court handed down misusing the privacy clause in the state constitution, pro-euthanasia attorneys filed a case for a now-deceased man who wanted to get a prescription for a lethal cocktail to kill himself.

Although drafters did not have abortion or assisted suicide in mind — they were targeting governmental snooping and intrusion — the Montana Supreme Court in 1999 claimed the constitution allowed an unlimited right to an abortion.

State officials have appealed the decision by District Judge Dorothy McCarter who misused the privacy clause to allow a so-called right to assisted suicide.

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath asked Judge McCarter for a temporary injunction preventing assisted suicides from occurring while the appeal proceeds, but she declined.

Because McCarter’s decision is in effect for the part of the state covered her district court, some Montana residents currently have the ability to get their doctor to help them kill themselves. However, no one has used the temporary situation to do so, saying they can’t find physicians willing to write such a prescription.

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.

So far, the court has received 19 amicus briefs, including one from attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-life group who filed their brief in April.

“Legalizing assisted suicide diminishes compassionate treatment of pain because…assisted suicide encourages the elimination of patients themselves rather than of their suffering,” the brief states. “The dignity and privacy rights of vulnerable patients require that they not be propelled into a society where they can be successfully pressured to die. Their lives are valuable and protectable by law.”

In October 2007, two men, along with some doctors and the euthanasia advocacy organization Compassionate Choices, filed suit in state court.

Last December, Judge Dorothy McCarter handed down her decision and the state attorney general appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

“Doctors are licensed to heal, not to kill. It should seem obvious, but the law should never allow private individuals to poison one another," ADF senior legal counsel Steven H. Aden told

ADF filed its brief on behalf of the Family Research Council, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Catholic Medical Association, and numerous Montana physicians.

“A right to assisted suicide is inconsistent with our legal system, built upon the bedrock principle of equality of each human being,” said Bill Saunders, human rights counsel and senior fellow and director of the Center for Human Life and Bioethics at the Family Research Council.

“As experience in the Netherlands shows, legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide leads to doctors deciding which lives are worth living, fundamentally corrupting the doctor-patient relationship," he added.

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.

Related web sites:
ADF brief –
Alliance Defense Fund –

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