Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bradley Williams: Setting the Record Straight

Bradley Williams' Letter to the Missoula Independent:

I was appalled to see Skyler Brownings's uncritical posting of Barbara Coombs Lee's propaganda piece about assisted suicide in Montana. ["Montana leads the way in end-of-life choice"]. Coombs Lee is the President of Denver-based Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society.

First, to be clear, assisted suicide is not legal in Montana. The Montana Supreme Court Baxter decision merely gave doctors a potential defense to prosecution for homicide. This defense is not guaranteed. Baxter did not address, let alone reverse prior caselaw allowing doctors and others to be sued for causing or failing to prevent a suicide. Montana attorney Greg Jackson, with attorney Matt Bowman, states: "After Baxter, assisted suicide continues to carry both criminal and civil liability risks for any doctor, institution, or lay person involved."
http://montanansagainstassistedsuicide.blogspot.com/p/baxter-case-analysis.html

Second, legalization is a recipe for elder abuse. Legalization would allow heirs and others who will benefit financially from an older person's death to legally pressure and abuse that person to end his or her life. This is contrary to Montana official public policy to prevent elder abuse.

Third, legalization will empower healthcare providers, including the government, to steer individuals to suicide. This has happened in Oregon where assisted suicide is legal. The most well known cases involve Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup. Each wanted treatment. The Oregon Health Plan offered them coverage for suicide instead. See e.g. Susan Donaldson James, "Death Drugs Cause Uproar in Oregon," ABC News, August 6, 2008 athttp://abcnews.go.com/Health/Story?id=5517492  Montana does not need
the "Oregon experience."

For factual information about assisted suicide, please visit our website at
www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org Please sign our petition! Donations are appreciated!

Bradley D. Williams
Coordinator
www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org
Montanans Against Assisted Suicide
& For Living with Dignity
610 North First St, Ste 5-285
Hamilton, MT 59840
406 531 0937

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Propaganda About Montana: Baxter & Assisted Suicide

By Margaret Dore, Esq.

Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices, has posted a propaganda piece on Huffington Post falsely claiming that a physician who assists a suicide in Montana is "safe" from prosecution.  My request for equal time to correct the record on Huffington Post has been ignored.  A discussion of the actual law of Montana is set forth below. 

A.  Assisted Suicide

There are just two states where physician-assisted suicide is legal: Oregon and Washington.  These states have statutes that give doctors and others who participate in a qualified patient’s suicide, immunity from criminal and civil liability.  (ORS 127.800-995 and RCW 70.245). 

In Montana, by contrast, the law on assisted suicide is governed by the Montana Supreme Court decision, Baxter v. State, 354 Mont. 234 (2009).  Baxter gives doctors who assist a suicide a potential defense to criminal prosecution.  Baxter does not legalize assisted suicide by giving doctors or anyone else immunity from criminal and civil liability.  Under Baxter, a doctor cannot be assured that a particular suicide will qualify for the defense. 

B.  The Baxter Decision is Wrong

Baxter found that there was no indication in Montana law that physician-assisted suicide, which the Court termed “aid in dying,” is against public policy.  (354 Mont. at 240, ¶¶ 13, 49-50).  Based on this finding, the Court held that a patient’s consent to assisted suicide “constitutes a statutory defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician.”  (Id. at 251, ¶ 50).

Baxter, however, overlooked caselaw imposing civil liability on persons who cause or fail to prevent a suicide.  See e.g., Krieg v. Massey, 239 Mont. 469, 472-3 (1989) and Nelson v. Driscoll, 295 Mont. 363, ¶¶ 32-33 (1999).  Baxter also overlooked elder abuse.  The Court stated that the only person “who might conceivably be prosecuted for criminal behavior is the physician who prescribes a lethal dose of medication.”  (354 Mont. at 239, ¶ 11).  The Court thereby overlooked criminal behavior by family members and others who benefit from a patient’s death, for example, due to an inheritance.

The Baxter decision is fundamentally flawed and wrong.

C.  Doctors are not "Safe" Under Baxter

Baxter is a narrow decision via which doctors cannot be assured that a particular suicide will qualify for the defense. Attorneys Greg Jackson and Matt Bowman provide this analysis:

"If the patient is less than 'conscious,' is unable to 'vocalize' his decision, or gets help because he is unable to 'self-administer,' or the drug fails and someone helps complete the killing, Baxter would not apply. . . .

http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/p/baxter-case-analysis.html

Even if a doctor "beats the rap" on prosecution, there is the issue of civil liability.  See Krieg and Nelson, supra.  Like O.J. Simpson, a doctor who escapes criminal liability could find himself sued by a family member upset that he "killed mom."  The doctor could be held liable for civil damages.

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Margaret Dore is President of Choice is an Illusion, a nonprofit corporation opposed to assisted-suicide. (www.choiceillusion.org She is also an attorney in Washington State where assisted suicide is legal.

* * *

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-coombs-lee/aid-in-dying-montana_b_960555.html 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Barbara Coombs Lee Renews Plea to Eliminate Oregon Reporting Consistent with Elder Abuse

By Margaret Dore

Today, Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices, published a blog on Huffington Post arguing that reporting for Oregon's assisted suicide act is no longer needed.[1]  This is the same claim that Compassion & Choices made in Montana before its proposed bill to legalize assisted suicide was defeated last February.

The reporting in question is consistent with elder abuse, i.e., of people with money.  This quote is from my memo against Compassion & Choices' bill, SB 167:

"Doctor reporting is . . . eliminated.1  The former Hemlock Society, Compassion & Choices, claims that this is because Oregon’s reporting system has “demonstrated the safety of the practice.”2  To the contrary, Oregon’s reports support that the claimed safety is speculative.  The reported statistics are also consistent with elder abuse.  No wonder Compassion & Choices wants the reporting system gone."

To view the entire memo, click here. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Washington State: "Hear No Evil, See No Evil"

Dear Editor:

Margaret K. Dore's article regarding Washington's assisted suicide law [Bar Bulletin, July] highlights a troubling disconnect between this statute and the commendable trend in Washington law to recognize and protect elders from abuse.

On the one hand, the Slayer's Statute, RCW 11.84, was recently amended to penalize heirs who financially exploit a vulnerable adult. On the other hand, safeguards for assisted suicide are minimal, far less than the standards demanded for executing a valid will. As Ms. Dore points out, record-keeping by the state appears to consist of the "hear-no-evil, see-no-evil" variety.

Theresa Schrempp
Sonkin & Schrempp, PLLC

To view Dore's article, "Assisted-Suicide Report Lacks Information about Consent, click here.

To view Washington's official report, click here.

To view the above letter, go here (the link may not work for non-bar members):  https://www.kcba.org/newsevents/barbulletin/BView.aspx?Month=09&Year=2011&AID=letters.htm