HELENA – The
Montana House of Representatives endorsed a bill by one vote Thursday
that would make it illegal for doctors to prescribe life-ending
medication to terminally ill patients who ask for it.
endorsed the bill 51-49 on second reading. If it passes third reading,
the measure will head to the Senate for consideration.
“We do talk
in this chamber about personal liberty, but with liberty comes with
responsibility,” bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby, said.
“Suicide is a contagion. This creates a difficult situation for a state
that has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.”
Republican Rep. Keith Regier of Kalispell added that House Bill 477 in his estimation is a suicide-prevention bill.
the measure, physician-assisted suicide would become a crime,
punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $50,000 fine, or both.
Before the vote, Rep. Virginia Court reminded lawmakers that they rejected a similar bill earlier this session.
is the choice for the terminally ill that is important,” the Billings
Democrat said. “They often relay that it gives them comfort and peace of
mind that as their illness advances that they are in control of their
final days. Give these folks the dignity to die in the manner of their
The Legislature has struggled to clarify whether the
practice is specifically legal or illegal since the Montana Supreme
Court ruled in 2009 that nothing in state law prohibits physicians from
giving aid in dying. The high court also said at the time that doctors
could use a patient’s request for the medication as a defense against
any criminal charges.
A competing bill aiming to prohibit the
prosecution of doctors who prescribe such medication and give doctors
guidelines in these situations has been tabled in the Senate Judiciary
Without formal laws guiding the procedure, no state
reporting on these deaths is required, and it is unknown how common the
practice is in Montana. A Missoula doctor said in a public hearing at
the Capitol in February that he has been involved in about 10 cases.
Four states — Oregon, Washington, New Mexico and Vermont — currently allow patients access to aid in dying.