Friday, April 9, 2010

Terminally ill Montanan asks state to honor right-to-die

Posted By on Fri, Apr 9, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Right-to-die advocates with nonprofit Compassion and Choices hosted a teleconference this morning featuring Steve Johnson, a 72-year-old Helena resident with inoperable brain cancer. Johnson has asked doctors and state legislators to recognize the Montana Supreme Court's decision in late December and uphold his right to request life-ending medication.

In a release issued by Compassion and Choices today, Johnson said he was diagnosed with brain cancer eight years ago after passing out in a field on his ranch. He's since gone through surgery, radiation treatment and experimental new cancer treatments offered at Stanford University. Johnson stated he wants to take any measures possible to prolong his life but has accepted that his life is nearing an end.

"I was heartened when the Montana Supreme Court decided I have a choice on how I am allowed to die," Johnson said. "Unfortunately, not everyone agrees this will be my decision to make. Opponents in our legislature have already announced they will try to pass a law to take away my end-of-life choice, and yours. We should reject those efforts."

Compassion and Choices also released the findings of a statewide survey today, revealing that an estimated 63 percent of Montanans support a physicians right to legally prescribe life-ending medication to mentally competent, terminally ill patients. The poll was conducted by nationally recognized survey consultant David Binder, who currently works as a researcher with the Democratic National Committee.

Compassion and Choices is not alone in hosting public debate on the right-to-die issue. The American Civil Liberties Union has announced a conference in Helena for Saturday, April 10, featuring two attorneys and the nonprofit Montana Family Foundation, which cautions physicians that the supreme court's decision does not necessarily protect them from the legal dangers of assisting patients in dying. Groups across Montana—as well as individuals like Johnson—continue to stress the importance of introducing legislation in 2011 to legalize the practice.

"I want my physician to be able to respect and honor my choice to die with dignity," Johnson said. "Adults like myself should have the option, if terminally ill, to request physician assistance in dying. Even though I don't know whether I would ultimately take medication to end my life peacefully, I'd like to have the choice."

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