Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why Montana assisted suicide bill HB 505 is Needed Now

By Margaret Dore, Esq.
Margaret Dore

Originally published here.

A.  Baxter is Confusing

The Baxter case did not legalize physician-assisted suicide. Its holding is limited to giving doctors a defense to prosecution for homicide. Civil liability is not addressed.

Suicide proponents, including Dr. Stephen Speckart, have conceded the lack of legality.[1] Baxter is, however, confusing with even lawyers unable to agree on its meaning.[2]

B.  The Confusion has Allowed Suicide Proponents to Claim that Assisted Suicide is Legal


This confusion has allowed suicide proponents to claim that assisted suicide is legal.  Indeed, they have convinced the Board of Medical Examiners to issue a statement implying that assisted suicide is legal.  This is "Position Statement No. 20," also called "Board Advisory No. 20." [3]


C.  Suicide Proponents are Attempting to Recruit Doctors


Suicide proponents have been actively recruiting doctors to perform assisted suicides with the false assurance that it is legally safe to do so.[4] A doctor so recruited could find himself sued or even convicted of a homicide. On the other hand, the present confusion could frustrate a civil and/or criminal action by an aggrieved party, such as a son and daughter outraged that the doctor has caused their father's suicide.

With the present situation, it’s hard to know legally what will happen. Meanwhile, there is no assurance that any such suicide will be voluntary and/or not the product of abuse or coercion, for example, in the inheritance situation. There is no assurance that the victim will not be a person with many quality years left to live, if only he or she had not been steered to suicide.


D.  The Solution


If instead, the law is clarified that physician-assisted suicide is not legal, 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  (pressure, steerage, people throwing their lives away, etc.).

HB 505 does this by clarifying Montana’s existing prohibition against “aiding or soliciting suicide” in 45-5-105. The bill states:
"A person who purposely aids or solicits another person to commit suicide, but such suicide does not occur, including physician-assisted suicide, commits the offense of aiding or soliciting suicide."[5]

E.  Tell Your Senator to Vote "Yes" on HB 505

This is why HB 505 is needed now, to stop the confusion to protect both doctors and the public. Tell your Senators to vote "Yes" on HB 505!

Footnotes
[1]  In 2009, Dr. Speckart testified in support of SB 167, which had sought to legalize assisted suicide in Montana. He said: "[M]ost physicians feel significant dis-ease with the limited safeguards and possible risk of criminal prosecution after the Baxter decision." See transcript at:  http://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/speckart-transcript.pdf
[2]  See e.g. The Montana Lawyer, November 2011, Cover Story: "The aid-in-dying debate: Can a physician legally help a patient to die in Montana? Court ruling still leaves the issue open to argument, (with pro-con articles by Senator Anders Blewett and Senator Jim Shockley with Margaret Dore, available at:   http://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/mt-lawyer-cover-story_001.pdf
[3]  The current version of "Position Statement No. 20" is available at: http://bsd.dli.mt.gov/license/bsd_boards/med_board/pdf/physician_aid_in_dying.pdf  
[4]  See letter from Stephen Speckart and George Risi, to all active Montana doctors, dated March 5, 2012 (falsely stating that “no basis exists [under Baxter] to prosecute a physician for providing aid in dying [physician-assisted suicide]”). Available at: http://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/risispeckart_ltr_001.pdf  This letter attaches the original version of "Position Statement No. 20" 
[5]  HB 505 can be viewed here:  http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2013/billpdf/HB0505.pdf

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