By Bradley D. Williams on October 14, 2011
I am the coordinator of Montanans Against Assisted Suicide & For Living with Dignity. I disagree with Alex Yahanda that assisted suicide is legal in Montana (“The grateful dead,” Oct. 13). A bill that would have legalized assisted suicide in Montana was defeated this last legislative session. Legal assisted suicide is, regardless, a recipe for abuse.
Montana has been targeted for legalization by the Denver-based suicide promotion organization Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society. In 2007, Compassion & Choices initiated litigation which ultimately resulted in the Baxter decision issued on December 31, 2009. Baxter gives doctors, and only doctors, a potential defense to criminal prosecution for causing or assisting a suicide. Assisted suicide is not “legalized” by giving doctors or anyone else criminal or civil immunity.
In 2011, Compassion & Choices tried again, by backing a bill in our legislature. This bill, SB 167, would have legalized assisted suicide in Montana, but failed.
During a debate on SB 167, its sponsor State Senator Anders Blewett, a lawyer, conceded that the Baxter decision allows a doctor to be prosecuted for assisting a suicide. He said: “[U]nder the current law … there’s nothing to protect the doctor from prosecution.” Similar statements were made by others. For example, Dr. Stephen Speckart testified that “most physicians feel significant dis-ease with the limited safeguards and possible risk of criminal prosecution after the Baxter decision.”
To view transcript excerpts, go to http://maasdocuments.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/blewett_speckhart_trans_001.pdf.
Legal assisted suicide is a recipe for elder abuse. For example, according to the legalization bill proposed by Compassion & Choices, there would be no witnesses required at the death. Without disinterested witnesses, an opportunity would be created for an heir or someone else who would benefit from the death to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent. Even if he struggled, who would know?
Other problems with assisted suicide are discussed in our talking points. These problems include the “Barbara Wagner” scenario in which patients can be steered to suicide by health care providers. For Wagner, this included a government health plan. Other problems are suicide contagion and the pesky issue that people targeted through these laws are not necessarily dying any time soon.
To view our talking points, please go to http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/p/talking-points.html.
Bradley D. Williams
Coordinator, Montanans Against Assisted Suicide
& For Living with Dignity