Baxter v. Montana

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Baxter, et al., v. Montana, et al.
Seal of the Supreme Court of Montana.gif
Court Montana Supreme Court
Full case name Robert Baxter, Stephen Speckart, M.D., C. Paul Loehnen, M.D., Lar Autio, M.D., George Risi Jr., M.D., and Compassion & Choices, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. State of Montana and Steve Bullock, Defendants and Appellants
Argued September 2 2009
Decided December 31 2009
Citation(s) MT DA 09-0051, 2009 MT 449
Holding
While the State Constitution did not guarantee a right to physician-assisted suicide, there was "nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedent or Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy."
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting
Chief Justice
Mike McGrath (recused)
Associate Justices
James C. Nelson, W. William Leaphart, Patricia O. Cotter, James A. Rice, John Warner, Brian Morris
Justice Pro Tem
District Judge Joe L. Hegel (sitting in place of McGrath)
Case opinions
Majority Leaphart, joined by Cotter, Warner, Morris
Dissent Rice, joined by Hegel

Baxter v. Montana, was a Montana Supreme Court case, argued on September 2, 2009, and decided on December 31, 2009, that addressed the question of whether the state's constitution guaranteed terminally ill patients a right to lethal prescription medication from their physicians.[1]

Background of the case[edit]

The original lawsuit was brought by four Montana physicians (Stephen Speckart, C. Paul Loehnen, Lar Autio, and George Risi, Jr., M.D.s), Compassion & Choices and Robert Baxter, a seventy-six year old truck driver from Billings, Montana, who was dying of lymphocytic leukemia. The plaintiffs asked the court to establish a constitutional right "to receive and provide aid in dying".[2] The state argued that "the Constitution confers no right to aid in ending one’s life." [3] Judge Dorothy McCarter, of Montana's First Judicial District Court, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on December 5, 2008, stating that the "constitutional rights of individual privacy and human dignity, taken together, encompass the right of a competent terminally-ill patient to die with dignity."[4] Baxter died that same day.[5]

The Montana Attorney General appealed the case to the state supreme court. Oral arguments were heard on September 2, 2009.[5]

Amicus briefs filed on behalf of those asking the court to grant the constitutional right to receive/provide aid in dying include human rights groups,[6] women's rights groups,[7] The American Medical Women's Association/American Medical Students Association,[8] clergy,[9] legal scholars,[10] thirty-one Montana state legislators [11] and bioethicists,[12] among others.

Among the groups filing amicus briefs on behalf of the state were the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of the Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Catholic Medical Association.

The Montana Medical Association issued a statement opposing physician-assisted suicide, but refused to file an amicus brief in the appeal.

Controversy[edit]

Conservative lawyer Wesley J. Smith condemned the lower court ruling, stating,

Judges are becoming too arrogant for our good as a nation....Culture-rending changes in law and morality should not be decided undemocratically by promoting a judge's own ideology through wrenching and twisting constitutional terms to mean things that were not intended when they were enacted.[13]

Verdict[edit]

On Dec. 31, 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of Baxter. It stated that, while the state's Constitution did not guarantee a right to physician-assisted suicide, there was "nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedent or Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy."[14]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Johnson, Kirk. Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case, The New York Times, August 31, 2009
  2. ^ Original plaintiff's filing Baxter v Montana
  3. ^ Johnson, Kirk. Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case, The New York Times, August 31, 2009
  4. ^ Montana District Court Judge Dorothy McCarter, decision to grant motion for summary judgment [1]
  5. ^ a b Billings Gazette: Personal choice vs. public interest: ‘Right to die’ argued, September 2, 2009
  6. ^ Human Rights Groups Amicus for plaintiffs/appellees
  7. ^ Women's Rights Groups Amicus for plaintiffs/appellees
  8. ^ American Medical Women's Association/American Medical Students Association Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  9. ^ Clergy Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ Montana Legislators Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  12. ^ Bioethicists Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  13. ^ Ertelt, Steven (January 9, 2009). "Montana Becomes Third State to Legalize Assisted Suicide as Judge Rules Again". LifeNews. Retrieved April 9, 2012. 
  14. ^ Montana Ruling Bolsters Doctor-Assisted Suicide