Laws Against Assisted Suicide are Constitutional

By Margaret Dore,
Updated March 18, 2013

Laws prohibiting assisted suicide in Montana are constitutional under both the US Constitution and the Montana State Constitution.  This is true for three reasons. 

1.  The US Supreme Court Upheld Constitutionality

In 1997, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of a statute prohibiting assisted suicide under the United States Constitution.  In Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 705-6, 117 S.Ct. 2258, 2261 (1997), the Supreme Court stated:

"The question presented . . . is whether Washington's prohibition against 'caus[ing]' or 'aid[ing] a suicide offends the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We hold that it does not."

2.  Montana's Constitution Does Not Include a "Right to Die"

Montana's Constitution was adopted in 1972.  Archived documents show that during the Constitutional Convention, a proposed right to die was considered and rejected.[1]  

With this history, there is no right to die in the Montana Constitution.[2] 

3.  The Montana Supreme Court's Constitutional Ruling

In Baxter v. State, 354 Mont. 234, 224 P.3d 1211 (2009), the Supreme Court of Montana vacated a district court decision holding that there is a Constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide under the Montana Constitution.  The Supreme Court stated:  "The District Court's ruling on the constitutional issues is vacated . . ."[3]  The vote to vacate was six justices to one.[4]

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[1]  Margaret Dore, "Montana's Constitution does not Include a 'Right to Die,'"  available at 
[2]  Id.
[3]  Baxter, 354 Mont. at 251,  ¶ 51.  
[4]  Justice James Nelson, who is no longer on the court, was the only justice who voted to affirm a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide under the Montana State Constitution.  See his concurrence in Baxter beginning at ¶ 64.  The majority opinion issued by Justice William Leaphart vacated the district court’s constitutional ruling at ¶ 51 (“The District Court’s ruling on the constitutional issues is vacated ...”) Leaphart was joined by Justices Patricia O. Cotter, John Warner and Brian Morris.  Warner’s concurrence, ¶ 54,  states “This Court correctly avoided the constitutional issue . . .”  The dissent by Justice Jim Rice, joined by Joe L. Hegel, would have gone farther to hold that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide under the Montana State Constitution.  See ¶¶  111-116.