I am the President of Montanans Against Assisted Suicide, a nonprofit public benefit corporation and a grassroots group opposed to assisted suicide. We welcome everyone opposed to assisted suicide regardless of your views on other issues.
This session, we are supporting House Bill 505, which is a short and simple bill that clarifies the offense of aiding or soliciting suicide. The bill’s other purpose is to prevent the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Montana.
Assisted suicide means that someone provides the means and/or information for another person to commit suicide. When a physician is involved, the practice is physician-assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide is opposed by the American Medical Association and disability rights groups such as the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and Not Dead Yet. Assisted suicide is also opposed by the 4,000 plus Montanans who have signed our petition against assisted suicide. Their concerns include elder abuse and steerage of themselves or their family members to suicide.
In the last two years, three states have strengthened their laws against assisted suicide. These states are Idaho, Georgia and Louisiana. There are only two states where assisted suicide is legal: Oregon and Washington. In these two states, the following problems have emerged.
Throwing away your life
The Oregon and Washington laws allow a doctor to prescribe a lethal drug to a patient predicted to have less than six months to live. Predictions of life expectancy can, however, be wrong and treatment can lead to recovery. Consider Oregon resident, Jeanette Hall, who was diagnosed with cancer and adamant that she would “do” Oregon’s law. Her doctor convinced her to be treated instead. Now, twelve years later, “she is thrilled to be alive.” Legal assisted suicide encourages people with many quality years left to throw away their lives.
The Oregon and Washington laws have significant gaps so that people who use these laws are unprotected from abuse. The most obvious gap is a complete lack of oversight when the lethal drug is administered. This creates the opportunity for an heir, or for someone else who will benefit from the patient’s death, to administer the drug to the patient without his consent. Even if he struggled, who would know? These laws create the opportunity for the perfect crime.
In Oregon, legalization of assisted suicide has empowered the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) to steer patients to suicide. Specifically, the Plan denies coverage for treatment and offers to pay for suicide instead. For more detail, see the affidavit of Dr. Ken Stevens, paragraphs 8 to 12, at http://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/signed-stevens-aff-9-18-12.pdf
HB 505 clarifies Montana’s existing prohibition against “aiding or soliciting suicide” by expressly stating that physician-assisted suicide is an offense.
HB 505 also gives doctors a clear safe harbor in which they are free to perform palliative care and/or to withhold or withdraw treatment under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. In other words, the law regarding palliative care and withholding or withdrawing treatment remains unchanged.
Why legislators should vote “Yes”
HB 505 is needed because the Montana Supreme Court decision, Baxter v. State, has created uncertainty in the law. Baxter did not legalize assisted suicide, but the decision is confusing. This has allowed suicide proponents to falsely and aggressively claim that assisted suicide is “already legal.” Indeed, they are actively recruiting doctors to perform assisted suicides.
Under HB 505, the law will instead be clarified that physician-assisted suicide is not legal in Montana. There will be a clear tool for law enforcement, the medical profession and other interested parties to protect citizens from the negative consequences of assisted suicide legalization.
For more information about why HB 505 restores order to Public Safety in Montana, see www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org. Please tell your legislators to vote “yes” on HB 505 and end the confusion.
(Bradley Williams is president of Montanans Against Assisted Suicide. He can be reached at 406-531-0937 and email@example.com, 610 N. 1st St., Suite 5-285 Hamilton, MT 59840.)