[JURIST] The Montana First Judicial District [Montana courts materials] ruled Friday that terminally ill patients in the state have the right to commit physician-assisted suicide. The case, Baxter v. Montana [complaint, PDF] was brought by a number of terminally-ill Montanans, their doctors, and Compassion & Choices [advocacy website], an organization supporting the legalization of physician assisted suicide. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that their right to assisted suicide was guaranteed by the Montana Constitution [text; analysis, PDF], specifically under provisions relating to their rights of privacy, individual dignity, due process, equal protection, and the right to seek safety, health and happiness in all lawful ways. In her opinion, Judge Dorothy McCarter held [AP report] that under the Montana Constitution, terminally ill individuals have the right to die with dignity, and have the right to obtain self-administered medications to hasten death if they find their suffering to be unbearable. McCarter also held that physicians prescribing those medications are protected from homicide prosecution by state protection of the patient's right to die.
Last month, voters in Washington state approved a ballot initiative [JURIST report] that will allow terminally ill, legally competent adults to obtain lethal prescriptions without exposing themselves, their physicians, or others to criminal penalties. The Washington measure is modeled on neighboring Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [official materials], enacted in 1997 and upheld [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court in 2006.