Baxter v. Montana Update

In December 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in Baxter v. Montana (a case discussed in the October 2009 edition of Bioethics in Brief concerning the right to die with a physician’s assistance. The Court affirmed that a 75-year-old man with terminal cancer could obtain a physician’s aid in dying. However, the Court set aside the lower court’s reliance on Montana’s Constitution. Instead, the Court, relying only on state law, found that a physician could be immune from criminal liability if assisting a patient in dying under certain circumstances. While the Court sided with the patient, the noteworthy aspect of this case is that the Court refused to decide whether the Montana Constitution provides a right to die with a physician’s assistance. Accordingly, the constitutional question remains unsettled.

—Nick Moore