Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, issued a formal request to the Montana Legislative Services Division today for a draft bill implementing the Montana Supreme Court's December 2009 ruling in favor of physician-assisted suicide. Barrett says the primary goals of the legislation will be to ensure terminally ill patients in Montana can independently elect to die with dignity and to provide physicians with protection for civil liability for prescribing life-ending medications.
“I am working with doctors, patients and their advocates to draft a bill that’s right for us in Montana,” Barrett says.
The move comes just weeks after Sen. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls, announced his own intentions of introducing an opposition bill in the 2011 Legislature. But Barrett had his spot as one of the leading proponents of aid in dying reserved long before the opposition's leadership took shape, and today's announcement simply confirmed what Barrett had hinted at months ago.
"I know there will be legislation—I will introduce legislation if nobody else does—that's intended to address some of the concerns that people inevitably have about how this should be done in practice," Barrett told the Independent back in January, shortly after the court voted that physician-assisted suicide violates no existing Montana laws.
To date, most concerns regarding the practice have focused on the potential for relatives or physicians to coerce terminally ill individuals into prematurely ending their lives. Barrett says addressing those concerns is the chief motivation behind his request for legislation supporting physician aid in dying.
“The evidence from Oregon, where physician assistance in dying has been available for many years, is that that concern is unfounded,” Barrett says. “ But Oregon provides a number of safeguards to make sure that only willing patients request aid in dying, and one of the major purposes of the bill I have asked to have drafted will be to provide similar safeguards here, that meet the particular needs of Montana patients and doctors.”