Montana does not have a death with dignity statute. However, the end-of-life option is legal in the state through State Supreme Court ruling. Several legislative attempts to criminalize assisted dying have failed in recent years.
In 2021, Representative Carl Glimm, wanted to change that. He submitted a bill, “Prohibiting consent as a defense for physician-assisted suicide”, SB290, to eliminate consent as a defense for physicians who prescribe medication for their terminally ill patients. The bill failed to pass the Senate (25-25) and was set aside indefinitely by a vote of 29-21. View bill language here.
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Montana Supreme Court Ruling
In December 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled 5-2, in Baxter v. Montana [pdf], that nothing in the state law prohibited a physician from honoring a terminally ill, mentally competent patient’s request by prescribing medication to hasten the patient’s death. The ruling cited the state’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act: because there is so little difference as a matter of public policy between taking a patient off life support and prescribing lethal medication that the patient can take, the Court determined that existing Montana law permits physician assisted dying under the circumstances of the Baxter case.
Montana’s judicial approach to physician aid in dying remains unique.
Attempts to Ban Assisted Dying
In 2019, Montana State Representative Carl Glimm is sponsoring HB 284, the same bill as HB 536 (2017). The Montana State House of Representatives Judiciary Committee narrowly passed the bill 10 to 9, and on February 14, 2019 the full Montana House of Representatives passed the bill 53 to 47 on second reading. The State Senate voted the bill down 22 to 27 on April 5.
In 2017, Montana State Representative Brad Tschida (R-Missoula) sponsored HB 536, which states that “physician aid in dying is against public policy, and a patient’s consent to physician aid in dying is not a defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician.” A hearing for this bill criminalizing a physician’s writing of a life-ending prescription took place on February 24, 2017; on February 28, the bill passed in the Montana State House on a second reading 52 to 48, only to fail on March 1 on the final vote, a 50-50 tie.
In response to the Montana Supreme Court ruling, in 2011, a Death with Dignity Act, SB 167, and a bill prohibiting aid in dying were introduced in the state legislature for the first time. Neither passed; the same result occurred in subsequent legislative sessions, in 2013 (SB 220) and 2015 (SB 202).