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] The Montana Supreme Court sidestepped the question of if medical aid in dying is guaranteed under Montana State Constitution, instead they ruled on narrower grounds that neither legal precedent nor the state's statute deem such assistance against public policy, i.e. illegal. [2] Montana is one of six states and Washington DC where aid in dying is authorized including Montana, Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. [3]

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".[4] The state argued that "the Constitution confers no right to aid in ending one’s life." [5] 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."[6] Baxter died that same day.[7]

The Montana Attorney General appealed the case to the state supreme court. Oral arguments were heard on September 2, 2009.[7]

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,[8] women's rights groups,[9] The American Medical Women's Association/American Medical Students Association,[10] clergy,[11] legal scholars,[12] thirty-one Montana state legislators [13] and bioethicists,[14] 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.

Verdict[edit]

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."[15]

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. [16]

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. [17]And 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.” [18]

In 2015 The Journal of Palliative Medicine published Clinical Criteria for Physician Aid in Dying for doctors to use as guidance in states like Montana, where provisions are not detailed in statute.[19]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Johnson, Kirk. Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case, The New York Times, August 31, 2009
  2. ^ Johnson, Kirk (2009-12-31). "Montana Ruling Bolsters Doctor-Assisted Suicide". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-12-30. 
  3. ^ "Colorado medical-aid-in-dying law signed, takes effect immediately". Retrieved 2016-12-30. 
  4. ^ Original plaintiff's filing Baxter v Montana
  5. ^ Johnson, Kirk. Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case, The New York Times, August 31, 2009
  6. ^ Montana District Court Judge Dorothy McCarter, decision to grant motion for summary judgment [1]
  7. ^ a b Billings Gazette: Personal choice vs. public interest: ‘Right to die’ argued, September 2, 2009
  8. ^ Human Rights Groups Amicus for plaintiffs/appellees
  9. ^ Women's Rights Groups Amicus for plaintiffs/appellees
  10. ^ American Medical Women's Association/American Medical Students Association Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  11. ^ Clergy Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ Montana Legislators Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  14. ^ Bioethicists Amicus Brief for plaintiffs/appellees
  15. ^ Montana Ruling Bolsters Doctor-Assisted Suicide
  16. ^ Span, Paula. "In Montana, New Controversy Over Physician-Assisted Suicide". The New Old Age Blog. Retrieved 2016-12-30. 
  17. ^ Span, Paula. "In Montana, New Controversy Over Physician-Assisted Suicide". The New Old Age Blog. Retrieved 2016-12-30. 
  18. ^ Briggeman, Kim. "Longtime Missoula educator Erwin Byrnes charted his own course, even in death". missoulian.com. Retrieved 2016-12-30. 
  19. ^ 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 4779271Freely accessible. PMID 26539979.