Baxter v. Montana

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Baxter, et al., v. Montana, et al.
CourtMontana Supreme Court
Full case nameRobert 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
ArguedSeptember 2 2009
DecidedDecember 31 2009
Citation(s)MT DA 09-0051, 2009 MT 449
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
MajorityLeaphart, joined by Cotter, Warner, Morris
DissentRice, joined by Hegel

Baxter v. Montana, is 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][2] The Montana Supreme Court sidestepped the question of if medical aid in dying is guaranteed under Montana State Constitution, but it instead ruled, on narrower grounds, that neither legal precedent nor the state's statute deem such assistance to be against public policy or illegal.[3] Montana is one of ten states in which aid in dying is authorized. The others are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington; it is authorized in the District of Columbia as well.[4][5]

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 confirm a constitutional right "to receive and provide aid in dying".[6] The state argued that "the Constitution confers no right to aid in ending one’s life."[2] 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."[7] Baxter died that same day.[8]

The Montana Attorney General appealed the case to the state supreme court. Oral arguments were heard on September 2, 2009.[8]

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,[9] women's rights groups,[10] The American Medical Women's Association/American Medical Students Association,[11] clergy,[12] legal scholars,[13] thirty-one Montana state legislators[14] and bioethicists,[15] 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, disability rights group Not Dead Yet,[16] 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.


On Dec. 31, 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of Baxter. Although they did not address the constitutional question, they ruled on narrower grounds saying that "nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedent or Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy."[17]

After Baxter[edit]

Since the Montana Supreme Court chose only to rule on statutory grounds, groups opposed to medical aid in dying have since tried to overturn the decision at the legislature. Likewise proponents of aid in dying have sought to have the detailed provisions found in other states codified.[18]

In 2013, Montana Doctor Eric Kress, M.D. became the first physician to speak publicly about providing aid in dying for qualified patients who request the medication.[18] In 2015, Erwin Byrnes became the first patient to speak publicly about his plans to take the medication, saying “We have to be kind of the driver of our own bus.”[19]

In 2015, The Journal of Palliative Medicine published the article "Clinical Criteria for Physician Aid in Dying" for doctors to use as guidance in states like Montana, where provisions are not detailed in statute.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baxter v. State, 2009 MT 449[permanent dead link], 224 P.3d 1211, 354 Mont. 234 (2009).
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Kirk (August 31, 2009). "Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case" – via
  3. ^ Johnson, Kirk (December 31, 2009). "Montana Ruling Bolsters Doctor-Assisted Suicide". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  4. ^ "Colorado medical-aid-in-dying law signed, takes effect immediately". Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  5. ^ "New Jersey legalizes medically assisted dying". Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  6. ^ Original plaintiff's filing Baxter v Montana[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ a b Bureau, MIKE DENNISON Gazette State. "Personal choice vs. public interest: 'Right to die' argued". The Billings Gazette.
  9. ^ "Human Rights Groups Amicus for plaintiffs/appellees" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Women's Rights Groups Amicus for plaintiffs/appellees" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "American Medical Women's Association/American Medical Students Association Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Clergy Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ [2][dead link]
  14. ^ "Montana Legislators Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "Bioethicists Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Info" (PDF). 2012. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  17. ^ Johnson, Kirk (December 31, 2009). "Montana Ruling Bolsters Doctor-Assisted Suicide" – via
  18. ^ a b Span, Paula. "In Montana, New Controversy Over Physician-Assisted Suicide". The New Old Age Blog. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  19. ^ Briggeman, Kim. "Longtime Missoula educator Erwin Byrnes charted his own course, even in death". Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  20. ^ Orentlicher, David; Pope, Thaddeus Mason; Rich, Ben A.; Committee, Physician Aid-in-Dying Clinical Criteria. "Clinical Criteria for Physician Aid in Dying". Journal of Palliative Medicine. 19 (3): 259–262. doi:10.1089/jpm.2015.0092. PMC 4779271. PMID 26539979.