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Freedom to Die

“In a move that is both ethically profound and (so far, at least) politically rare, Montana has become the third state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. A divided state supreme court ruled Thursday that neither state law nor public policy prevented doctors from prescribing lethal drugs to terminally-ill patients who want to end their lives. In essence, the court ruled, suicide is not a crime. The majority justices wrote: ‘We find nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedent or Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy. The ‘against public policy’ exception to consent has been interpreted by this court as applicable to violent breaches of the public peace. Physician aid in dying does not satisfy that definition. We also find nothing in the plain language of Montana statutes indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy. In physician aid in dying, the patient – not the physician – commits the final death-causing act by self-administering a lethal dose of medicine.’ The ruling – which is likely to be challenged in the legislature and perhaps in a voter referendum – follows a pattern in the Pacific Northwest. In November 2008, voters in Washington State approved a ballot initiative allowing terminally ill, legally competent adults to obtain lethal prescriptions without exposing themselves or their doctors to criminal prosecution.”
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