On December 31st, the Montana Supreme Court fast-tracked Montana to become the third U.S. State to sanction assisted-suicide. The landmark decision was much anticipated after the protracted legal and ethical conflict.The Montana Supreme Court did not establish (or deny) the legality of assisted-suicide based on the state's constitution; rather, the justices decided that no court precedent, no state law, nor any state policy conflicted with giving patients the right to seek assistance to actively cause their own death.
This decision leaves states, such as Texas, vulnerable to advocates who use futile care laws to push for assisted-suicide or other laws through the courts. Futile care laws, like the one in Texas, (Chapter 166.046 of the Health and Safety Code) allow a physician to withdraw life-sustaining treatment (including food and water) from a patient despite the patient's advance directive or expressed wishes after giving the patient the required ten-day notice of intent to do so.
Like in the [I]Roe[/I] decision, the legal strategy in the Montana case stepped around the real issues of concern–human rights. The rights of patients cannot be ignored; the court should have thoughtfully considered the scenarios in which doctor and patient rights collide. The courts missed, perhaps intentionally, the chance to establish a rudimentary starting point to answer some relevant questions, such as, “Who is the ultimate authority in the end of life decisions?” “Does the patient have autonomy to direct his own care?” “When, if ever, can the physicians ignore or override the wishes of the patient?” And most importantly, “Who decides and on what basis is the life of an ailing or disabled patient rendered futile?”
In Montana, a door was left open, and an additional separate state law must still be passed before assisted-suicide is officially legalized. Some consider this gap a window of opportunity for the Pro-Life movement. Pro-Lifers in Montana must defend the laws that safeguard the right to life as this right is protected in the constitutions of other states and the constitution of our country.