Physician-assisted death debated in Montana Legislature - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Physician-assisted death debated in Montana Legislature

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HELENA - The end-of-life issue was debated in the Montana Legislature on Tuesday.

One bill in favor of legalized physician-assisted deaths drew a big crowd of supporters, as well as opponents.

Senate Bill 202, sponsored by Missoula Democrat Dick Barrett, would provide guidelines and immunity for doctors to help patients die.

Bonnie Kelley has been in a wheelchair since a car accident three years ago.

"But now, I have faced death, and it's scary. And when it's my time to leave, I want to be in control," Kelley said.

"People often live beyond the end of their life to what I call the bitter end of life," Kalispell physician Dr. Eric Kress said."This is where pain and suffering are intensified and lengthened to levels never seen before in the history of mankind."

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill where a doctor could still be charged with murder for helping a patient die, even if he was asked to do it. 

Supporters and opponents of the measure, House Bill 328, spoke out. Doctors argued for and against the right to die by physician's aid, which involves the patient self-administering a prescribed lethal dose of medication.

Proponents brought about a 2009 Montana Supreme Court case ruling in which judges deemed it a right for terminally ill patients to die by lethal prescription medication, but not on a state constitutional level.

Those against the proposed measure echoed a theme of personal choice, arguing that it isn't the doctor's or government's final decision when it comes to death.

"Physician-assisted suicide is dangerous. Not only to patients, families and societies but it destroys the foundation of health care," Christopher Gilbert. "No longer is the physician a healer but rather an executioner."

Neither panel took action on the bills.

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