In a case being diligently watched by those who support physician-assisted suicide, the Montana Supreme Court last week ruled 4-to-3 that doctors cannot be punished for helping terminally ill patients "die with dignity." The ruling, however, didn't go as far as to dub physician-assisted suicide a right under the Montana state Constitution, according to the New York Times.
Initially, trucker Robert Baxter--along with advocacy group Compassion and Choices--sued for the right to "seek help" from a doctor to end his life. Baxter died in December 2008 at age 76 after battling lymphocytic leukemia.
Had Montana ruled on the constitutionality of physician-assisted suicide, it would have been the first state in the nation to do so. Washington and Oregon allow physician-assisted suicide, but referendum votes--not Supreme Court rulings--determined those cases. California has considered the practice, as well, but has not made it official as of yet.
Justice James C. Nelson wrote in a concurring opinion that the "right to physician aid in dying quintessentially involves the inviolable right to human dignity," a right that he also called "our most fragile."
To learn more about this case:
- read this New York Times article