Robert Baxter and several other mentally competent, terminally ill patients, as well as a group of physicians, filed a complaint in October 2007 claiming that the patients’ rights of privacy, human dignity and equal protection under the Montana Constitution precluded their being charged with deliberate homicide if the patients chose to seek a prescription for medication to hasten an inevitable death in the face of unrelenting pain and misery at the end of life. Mark Connell, an attorney in Missoula, working with Compassion and Choices, had filed the petition on behalf of the Plaintiffs.
In December 2008, the state district court issued its decision declaring the homicide statute unconstitutional as it applied to these plaintiffs and issuing an injunction to preclude charging them with homicide. The State of Montana has appealed the decision and the ACLU of Montana is working with Compassion and Choices to have the district court ruling upheld. ACLU of Montana filed an amicus brief on the case in June 2009. That brief explains tha the Montana Constitution affords citizens a right to privacy, and confirms a right to human dignity. Intertwined these two rights are solid foundations for District Court Judge Dorothy McCarter’s decision last fall that patients suffering in the last stages of terminal illness have to right ot make their own medical decisions, in concert with their physicians, on how their lives will end, and to do so without interference from the state. Unfortunately, while the Supreme Court did rule in Baxter’s favor, it did so based on Montana statutes. The court did not address the constitutional issues we raised. This issue will now be moving to our public policy work, where we will strive to protect the right to die and keep the legislature from banning it.