House panel debates penalties for assisted suicide
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Outlawing physician-assisted suicide in Montana would protect the elderly from being abused and keep the integrity of the medical profession intact, supporters of a bill to ban the practice told lawmakers Wednesday.
The House Judiciary Committee is considering the bill sponsored by its chairman, Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns of Laurel, to penalize the doctors and caregivers who participate in the practice.
"Basically House Bill 505 is written to target elder abuse," Kerns said. "And the fear that comes with that idea."
The Legislature has struggled with physician-assisted suicide since a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling that said nothing in state law prohibits it. The ruling effectively made Montana the third state to legalize the practice, though the lack of regulations and reporting requirements makes it impossible to know how many physician-assisted suicides have taken place.
Last week, a Senate committee tabled a bill regulating assisted suicide, just as it did during the 2011 session. Kerns' bill seeks to go in the opposite direction, outlawing rather than regulating the practice.
A similar measure also failed to receive sufficient lawmaker support in 2011.
Supporters of Kerns' bill said assisted suicide is unnecessary because end-of-life palliative care is sufficient to aid in the process of death and it may damage the medical profession.
"We believe that providers should never be placed in situations that undermine and/or threaten the trust or integrity of the medical profession," said Michael Cox, the spiritual care director at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.
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