Compassion & Choices was instrumental in establishing Montana as the first state to authorize medical aid in dying through a court challenge.

Robert Baxter and Steven Stoelb were two terminally ill Montana residents, both of whom desired to end their lives through medical aid in dying, as opposed to the painful and drawn out process that a natural death would entail.

In October 2007, Mr. Baxter, Mr. Stoelb, four Montana doctors, and Compassion & Choices filed a Complaint asking the district court to state that medical aid in dying was permitted by statute; or, in the alternative, to rule that prosecuting a physician for providing a prescription for medical aid in dying to a consenting patient was unconstitutional.

On December 5, 2008, Judge Dorothy McCarter entered her Decision and Order, stating that the court found that Montana had a constitutional right to allow “a competent terminally ill patient to die with dignity.”

Defendants appealed, escalating the matter to the Montana Supreme Court. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the district court’s ruling, making Montana the third state to authorize medical aid in dying.

In the absence of an authorizing statute, Montana legislators have proposed statutes to criminalize physician participation in medical aid in dying in several legislative sessions since the ruling took effect in 2010. During the 2023 legislative session, we expect legislative opponents of medical aid in dying to once again attempt to criminalize the practice. Our primary goal in the state is to protect the Baxter ruling and defend the right of Montanans to access a full range of end-of-life options.

Compassion & Choices’ press release can be read here.

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