HELENA – On its second try in five days, the Montana House on Monday finally passed a bill outlawing physician-assisted suicide in Montana, sending it forward to the Senate.
The House voted 51-48 to approve House Bill 477, but it took four votes over five days to get it done.
The measure sponsored by Rep. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby, adds “physician-assisted suicide” to the crime already in state law of “aiding or soliciting suicide.” The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
House members gave their preliminary approval to the bill last Thursday on a 51-49 vote, but then deadlocked 50-50 on the final and binding vote Friday.
However, the House voted 51-46 on Saturday to reconsider Friday’s vote, setting up another final vote Monday. House rules allow the body to reconsider its action on a bill within 24 hours of the initial vote.
All 41 House Democrats have consistently voted against HB477, while the number and makeup of Republicans opposing it have shifted from day to day. On Monday, seven Republicans voted against the measure: Reps. Tom Berry of Roundup, Rob Cook of Conrad, Geraldine Custer of Forsyth, Mike Miller of Helmville, David “Doc” Moore of Missoula, Nicholas Schwaderer of Superior and Jeff Welborn of Dillon.
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Miller was the only Republican to speak against the bill on the floor during last Thursday’s debate, saying the government had no business inserting itself into the discussion between citizens and their personal physician on end-of-life care.
“There are some areas where the state should not intervene in,” he said. “This is one of them. It is my life. I will live it, and end it, the way I want.”
The Montana Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that while a right to die by physician-assisted suicide is not guaranteed by the state Constitution, there is no legal precedent that says such assistance is against “public policy.”
Since the decision, numerous legislators have attempted to pass bills stating that public policy allows or forbids physician-assisted suicide in Montana, but none of them has become law.
Both HB477 says that physician-assisted suicide in Montana is against “public policy.”