This week the Montana Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against allowing doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill state residents. The hearing follows a December 5, 2008, ruling by Judge Dorothy McCarter, who said the Montana constitution guaranteed its citizens this right.
Since the issues arise solely under the state constitution, no further appeals are possible -- so a ruling to uphold the lower court's decision will enshrine Baxter v. Montana as the case that, for the first time, guarantees the citizens of a state the right to aid in dying. While Oregon's Death with Dignity Act (1994) and Washington's Initiative 1000 (2008) grant those state's inhabitants the right to end their own lives, such statutes could be revoked by legislatures at any time. In contrast, a Montana ruling favoring aid in dying would require a constitutional amendment to overturn -- an unlikely prospect.