Physicians in Montana could be facing “kill-on-demand” orders from patients who want to commit suicide if a district court judge’s opinion pending before the state Supreme Court is affirmed.
The case has attracted nominal attention nationwide, but lawyers with the Christian Legal Service have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the pending case because of what it would mean to doctors within the state, as well as the precedent it would set.
The concern is over the attack on doctors’ ethics and religious beliefs – as well as the Hippocratic oath – that may be violated by a demand that they prescribe deadly chemicals or in some other way assist in a person’s death.
M. Casey Mattox, a lawyer with the CLS, told WND that states allowing a “right to die” across the country – Oregon and Washington – include an opt-out provision for physicians with ethical or religious opposition to participating in killing a patient.
Montana’s situation, created late last year in a decision from First District Court Judge Dorothy McCarter in the Baxter et al. v. Montana case, is different. There is no provision for a doctor to refuse such “treatment” for a patient.
In that case, Robert Baxter, 75, a retired truck driver from Billings who suffers from lymphocytic leukemia, filed the lawsuit along with four physicians in the state’s district court system. They were aided in the case by the assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society.
Baxter told the organization’s magazine that society already provides death when animals are suffering.
“I just feel if we can do it for animals,” Baxter said, “we can do it for human beings.”
The CLS, joined by the Christian Medical Association, yesterday filed briefs asking the state Supreme Court to protect the conscience rights of health-care professionals.
The groups, representing more than 18,000 Christian medical and legal professions, are urging the court to reverse the district court’s decision and recognize a right not to participate in assisted suicide.
“The trial court’s decision to create a constitutional right to ‘obtain assistance from a medical care provider in the form of obtaining a prescription for lethal drugs’ threatens the rights of health-care professionals and institutions that hold sincere ethical, moral, and religious objections to participating in the intentional killing of their patients,” Mattox said.
“Medical professionals should not be coerced to violate the Hippocratic Oath in order to practice in Montana,” he said.
If a “right to die” is to be recognized, it should be developed from the people through the legislative process, not imposed by a single judge, the brief also argues.
The district decision, the groups also point out, would seriously undermine the relationship between doctors and patients. Patients could be uncomfortable knowing their doctor had provided a lethal dose to another patient, and doctors would have concerns about such demands from patients.
“At a time when states are experiencing a health-care shortage, making Montana the only state in the union to coerce professionals to assist in suicides could jeopardize the state’s health-care system,” Mattox said.
He told WND that the effort clearly is part of a nationwide agenda to impose and mandate ethical standards on Americans. Similar are the Obama administration’s suggestions that that pharmacists may not have the right to refuse to dispense abortion-inducing medications, and doctors may not have a conscience right to refuse to do abortions, he said.
“I don’t know where it’s coming from, but there is certainly a push from government to tell people to set aside religious or ethical qualms and to abide by whatever the government tells you is appropriate,” he said.
Mattox said the state still has several weeks to file its briefs in the Montana case, and then there will be further arguments on behalf of requiring doctors to provide terminal treatment.
“A mentally competent, terminally ill Montanan should have the right to choose a peaceful death, when confronted by death,” Kathryn Tucker, Compassion & Choices director of legal affairs, told KTVQ-TV, Billings.
But Montana Assistant Attorney General Anthony Johnston disagrees.
Johnston told the television station, “The laws governing the medical profession say the medical profession is to heal, not to kill.”