Pro-Life Advocates: Montana Assisted Suicide Decision Could Have Been Worse

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 31, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Advocates: Montana Assisted Suicide Decision Could Have Been Worse

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 31
, 2009

Helena, MT ( — Reaction is coming in form pro-life advocates responding to today’s decision by the Montana Supreme Court that determined there is no right to assisted suicide but saying it is allowed under state law. The pro-life activists say the decision is definitely bad but could have been worse.

The Montana Supreme Court, today, released its long-awaited decision in the Baxter case on assisted suicide.

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s decision that found a constitutionally-guaranteed right to physician assisted suicide, and, instead, found the practice legal on statutory grounds.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Jim Rice said that the majority badly misinterpreted our public policy. He said that assisting suicide has been explicitly and expressly prohibited by Montana law for the past 114 years.

Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation told, "Definitely not what we wanted, but not as bad as it could have been."

"While we would have preferred an outright reversal of the lower court’s decision, this ruling is a partial victory," he explained. "The fact that the Court did not find a constitutional right to physician assisted suicide is good for those of us opposed to this abhorrent practice."

The pro-family leader told that the legislature should now get involved.

"What the court did, in essence, was to place the issue back into the hands of the legislature, where it should be," he said. "They said there’s nothing currently in statute that prohibits the practice. It’s now up to us to go into the next legislative session fully armed and ready to pass statutory language that says, once and for all, that physician assisted suicide is illegal in Montana."

Wesley J. Smith, a pro-life bioethicist based in California, also provided analysis of the decision.

He said he was surprised that the state supreme court "construed the state’s living will law as permitting doctors to prescribe lethal overdoses if the patient self administers."

"This is odd because that approach was barely addressed–a matter acknowledged by the court since the overwhelming focus was on the constitutional aspects of the case–and it would thus seem to me that a motion for reconsideration is in order so this approach can be more fully briefed," he explained.

"Very odd–particularly since in Vacco v. Quill, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there is relevant and legal distinction between removing unwanted life support and assisting suicide," Smith added.

Smith said the good news, if any, about the decision is that "it isn’t a constitutional right but permitted by the Court’s construction of a statute (despite that the authors of the legislation almost surely never intended advance directives to apply to assisted suicide)."

"And since the analogy is to withdrawing life support, it will be harder to expand the category of people to whom doctors can legally prescribe without running afoul of the homicide statutes. Best of all, because it is statutory, the law can be changed or clarified," he said.

On the flip side, the bad news is that the case seems to accept “aid in dying” as a legitimate medical procedure "and indeed one in which the physician is less involved in a patient’s death than when he or she withdraws life support."

"But we are generally not talking about patients on life support. Thus, this bizarre approach will now be attempted by Compassion and Choices in other states," he continued.

"Let us hope this matter is reconsidered to allow full briefing on the point. Absent that, let us hope that the Montana Legislature clarifies the law as not applying to prescribing lethal doses for suicide," he said.

Related web sites:
Montana Family Foundation –

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