Death rights case reaches Montana Supreme Court


Kathryn L. Tucker, co-counsel for Mr. Baxter’s estate and the other plaintiffs, says this case is also about boundaries. At a time when the limits, if not failings, of medicine are part of the national debate about health care reform, Ms. Tucker said, what is the power of the individual to set his or her own course?

“Before we deal with assisted suicide, we should make sure first and foremost that everybody has equal access [to health care],” said Ms. [Julie] French, a Democratic state legislator who opposes an expansion of death rights. “It is not simply whether everyone has a right to choose; it’s whether they are given all the choices.”

Religious divisions have also surfaced, with many Roman Catholics and evangelicals siding with the state — arguing that the homicide statutes could be weakened if a right to assisted death is affirmed by the court — while some liberal church leaders speak out on behalf of what they say are matters of choice. “I don’t think God created us to be string puppets,” said John C. Board, an Episcopal deacon at a church in Helena who supports the Baxter claim. “If we say that God has given everyone free will, that means God has given you the opportunity to do things right and do things wrong.”

The group Compassion & Choices, which supports death rights has been following Mr. Baxter’s case closely.


A number of groups including the American Medical Women’s Association and the Northwest Women’s Law Center, as well as 31 Montana state legislators have filed friend-of-the-court amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

Religious leaders such as the Rev. Canon Gary Waddingham, Episcopal Priest in Billings, the Rev. John Board, Episcopal Deacon in Helena and the Rev. Steve Oreskovich, Episcopal Priest in Missoula, have also filed briefs saying they want to “to ensure that terminally ill Montanans of all faiths are free to make decisions about the time, place, and manner of their death that reflect their personal understanding of life’s meaning, reduce the suffering of their bodies and their minds, and conform to their own ethical and spiritual values.”

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