Montana Supreme Court Will Take Up Case Wednesday to Allow Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Montana Supreme Court Will Take Up Case Wednesday to Allow Assisted Suicide

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 1
, 2009

Helena, MT ( — The Montana Supreme Court will take up a case on Wednesday that could make the state the third to allow assisted suicide. The case is a concern for pro-life advocates because a decision in favor of assisted suicide could also open up the grisly practice without any limits other states have.

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, a statewide ballot initiative that saw euthanasia proponents vastly outspend pro-life groups, doctors and disability rights advocates.

Sensing an opportunity to advance assisted suicide further, given the state’s expansive constitution with language promoting privacy and individual rights, euthanasia advocates filed a case for a disabled man in Montana.

Robert Baxter won his case at the lower court level and a decision from the left-wing Montana Supreme Court could open up assisted suicide to the rest of the state or shut it off completely.

The concern is that the state’s high court has already misused the privacy provisions of the state constitution — meant to oppose government snooping — to allow an unlimited right to abortion. The court could very well justify unlimited assisted suicide under the same privacy clause.

State officials have appealed the decision by District Judge Dorothy McCarter and the state Supreme Court will hear that appeal tomorrow.

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.

Anthony Johnstone, the state solicitor at the Montana attorney general’s office who will argue the case, says there are numerous reasons to oppose assisted suicide.

“There are moral arguments, philosophical arguments on both sides, bioethical arguments on both sides, even medical and public health arguments," he told the New York Times in an interview.

Julie French, a Democratic state legislator, tells Times that the state should focus more on making health care, not death, available to its residents — some of whom must drive hours for a physician and further for surgical care.

“Before we deal with assisted suicide, we should make sure first and foremost that everybody has equal access,” she said. "It is not simply whether everyone has a right to choose; it’s whether they are given all the choices.”

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

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 from hearing the case.

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.”

“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

The euthanasia advocacy organization Compassionate Choices filed the suit.

Following the initial 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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