Monday, February 25, 2013

Press Release: House Bill 505: A bill to clarify the law of assisted suicide; and to prevent the legalization of assisted suicide in Montana.


FOR:  IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 25, 2013
FROM:  Montanans Against Assisted Suicide, A Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation
CONTACT:  Bradley Williams, 406 531 0937,                           
SUBJECT:  House Bill 505: A bill to clarify the law of assisted suicide; and to prevent the legalization of assisted suicide in Montana
HELENA - This week, legislation to end the dispute over whether assisted suicide is legal in Montana will likely be heard on the House Floor. House Bill 505 is a short two page bill that clarifies the offense of aiding or soliciting suicide. The bill’s other purpose is to prevent the legalization of 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.

In the last two years, three states have strengthened their laws against assisted suicide (Idaho, Georgia and Louisiana). There are only two states where assisted suicide is legal: Oregon and Washington. In these states, the following problems have emerged:

1.  The laws encourage people to throw away their lives.

The Oregon and Washington laws apply to patients predicted to have less than six months to live.  Predictions of life expectancy can, however, be wrong. Moreover, 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, Kenneth Stevens, convinced her to be treated instead. Now, 12 years later, “she is thrilled to be alive,” says Stevens. Hall, herself, says: “If Dr. Stevens had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead.”

Diane Coleman, President and CEO of the national disability rights group, Not Dead Yet, provides a related comment: “As one of countless disabled people who has survived a terminal prediction, I can’t help but be concerned when the accuracy of a terminal prognosis determines whether someone gets suicide assistance rather than suicide prevention.”

With legal assisted suicide, people with many quality years left are encouraged to throw away their lives.

2. The Oregon and Washington laws have created new paths of  elder abuse

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 dose is administered. 

Margaret Dore, an attorney from Washington State, says: “The assisted suicide laws do not require a doctor or even a witness to be present when the lethal dose is administered. This creates the opportunity for an heir, or for someone else who will  benefit from the patient’s death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent.” She adds “Even if he struggled, who would know? These laws create the opportunity for the perfect crime."

In the 2011 legislative session, Montana State Senator Jeff Essmann, made a similar observation:

“[All] the protections [in Oregon’s law] end after the prescription is written. [The proponents] admitted that the provisions in the Oregon law would permit one person to be alone in that room with the patient. And in that situation, there is no guarantee that that medication is self-administered.

So frankly, any of the studies that come out of the state of Oregon’s experience are invalid because no one who administers that drug against - to that patient is going to be turning themselves in for the commission of a homicide."        
3. Legalization has empowered Medicaid and individual doctors to steer patients to suicide

In Oregon, legalization of assisted suicide has empowered the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) to steer patients to suicide. The most well known cases are Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup. Each wanted treatment. The Plan denied coverage and offered to pay for their suicides instead. Wagner was devastated.  She said “I’m not ready to die.” Stroup said “This is my life they’re playing with.”

Today, the Oregon Health Plan continues to use financial incentives to steer patients to suicide. Dr. Stevens explains, “The Plan covers the cost.”

In Oregon, steerage also occurs at the individual doctor-patient level. Kathryn Judson provides this example: “To my surprise and horror, during the exam I overheard the doctor giving my husband a sales pitch for assisted suicide. ‘Think of what it will spare your wife, we need to think of her’” he said, as a clincher.” She says, “He was tempting my husband to commit suicide.”

        House Bill 505

Bradley Williams, President of Montanans Against Assisted Suicide, based in Hamilton, describes how HB 505 works. “The bill makes clear that physician-assisted suicide is a form of aiding or soliciting suicide and that a victim’s consent is not a defense.” He says: With passage, there will be a clear tool for law enforcement, the medical profession and other interested parties to protect Montana citizens.” 
“HB 505 is consistent with Montana's civil law in which persons who cause or fail to prevent another person’s suicide can be found civilly liable. This is typically in a hospital or jail setting.” 
HB 505 is needed now because suicide proponents are falsely and aggressively claiming that assisted suicide is legal in Montana. Williams says: “A lie or half truth repeated enough times becomes the truth.” With a yes vote on HB 505, the law will be clear that assisted suicide is not legal in Montana. He concludes: “Tell your legislators to vote Yes on HB 505!”

To view a copy of HB 505, go here:

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