Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Montana Supreme Court to Examine Assisted Suicide

Kirk Johnson reports in yesterday's New York Times (here) that the Montana Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether a terminally ill individual, under certain circumstances, has a constitutional right to a physician's assistance in committing suicide.

Robert Baxter was terminal with lymphocytic leukemia. Attorneys for Baxter's estate will argue that his physician should have been required to assist in hastening the dying process, since Baxter requested such assistance.

Currently, none of the fifty states have stated there is a constitutional right to die with medical assistance, although Washington and Oregon have passed laws that enable physicians to hasten the death of terminally ill individuals.

According to the article, the Montana constitution, written in 1972, states that "the dignity of the human being is inviolable." Baxter's estate's attorneys will argue that this provision -- as it's been interpreted by the state supreme court over the years -- grants extensive privacy rights to individuals, which should be deemed to include the right to assisted suicide. Attorneys for the state of Montana will counter that such a reading of the state constitution is overbroad:
"'There are moral arguments, philosophical arguments on both sides, bioethical arguments on both sides, even medical and public health arguments on both sides,' Anthony Johnstone, the state solicitor at the Montana attorney general’s office, who will argue the case for the state, said in defense of current laws that prohibit physician-assisted death."
You can link to the Montana Supreme Court's website here.