Great News from Montana Regarding Assisted Dying!

December 31, 2009

Wow. This is a rare double blog day for me --- and on New Year's Eve no less.

But this news merits immediate attention -- and celebration. So save some of your toasts this evening for the Montana Supreme Court. It ruled today that there is nothing in Montana law that prevents terminally ill patients from receiving prescribed medications that would assist them to die. Effectively, Montana has now become the third state to legalize assisted dying. A New York Times article provides more detail.

Occasionally, I run into some humanists who wonder why CFI has taken a position on legalization of assisted dying. They do not see this issue as relevant to our mission. Frankly, I am a bit surprised by these questions. CFI, and its affiliate, the Council for Secular Humanism, have always advocated for the right of the terminally ill to receive assistance in hastening their deaths. Arguments against recognizing such a right are almost always based on religious dogma. Moreover, if one believes that humans do have some rights, the right to decide the course of one's medical treatment and receive assistance in avoiding an agonizing death surely must be recognized as one of the most fundamental rights. Whose life is it anyway? To deny patients the right to receive assistance in dying effectively makes them slaves of the State. Their lives have been appropriated in the service of some nebulous and religiously inspired goal, usually identified as "preservation of the sanctity of life."

Montana now joins Washington and Oregon as states that allow assisted dying. Is it something in the air or is the Northwest merely more respectful of individual autonomy? Whatever the explanation, the court's decision does give us hope as the year ends. Perhaps 2010 will see more states embracing reason and compassion with respect to end-of-life issues.

By the way, thanks to Judy Walker for bringing today's decision to my attention.