Physician-aided death for terminally ill patients is set to be a controversial subject of debate for the Montana Legislature in January 2011.
Dr. Tom Preston, medical director for Compassion & Choices in Washington state, will address concerns about the issue while speaking at Montana State University-Northern's ATC Building at noon Monday.
Havre is one stop on a 10-day tour Preston is taking of Montana cities.
Preston is touring the state to explain the “death with dignity” concept to Montanans as the issue comes to the forefront the state.
“It’s my understanding that there will be competing bills in the Legislature this January,” Preston said. “I wanted to come over and give an informational talk.”
Compassion & Choices was a plaintiff in the Baxter v. Montana case, where the Supreme Court ruled “we find nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedence or Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy.”
The wording of the ruling allowed aid in dying for now but leaves the issue open to future policy change. And policy change appears imminent, in one direction or the other, in the next legislative section.
Preston hopes the change will be toward upholding the court’s decision.
“This needs to happen for the peace of mind and safety of the people of Montana,” Preston said, “Physicians help people die all the time illegally, and it’s frequently botched. This is safe and peaceful ending.”
Preston explained that the opposition he has encountered from people who are ideologically opposed and from people concerned about abuse.
He said he hopes to assuage the fears of the latter group with his explanations of the safeguards against abuse in his home state and others with similar policies.
One safeguard he plans on addressing is that a patient must be terminally ill or that the patient has less than six months to live and no amount of treatment could change it.
Another is that a patient must be clear-minded. If there is any doubt about the patient’s decision-making ability, the patient would be ineligible.
Preston said there is a difference between physician-aided death and euthanasia.
In the “death with dignity” concept he is addressing, the patient would receive the prescription from his or her physician, but must self-administer.
These and other issues will be discussed at the talk in Hensler Auditorium on Monday.
Light snacks will be provided.
State Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, a supporter of pro-life causes, was unavailable for comment Thursday and Friday.
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