Update: Anti-physician-assisted death bill fails to clear Montana Senate

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 4:28 PM, Feb 21, 2023

Update Feb 22, 2023: HELENA — After initially passing second reading in the Senate, Senate Bill 210 failed on its third reading by a slim margin of 26 to 24.

SB 210 would have significantly changed the protections for physicians who aid patients with terminal illnesses in ending their own life, removing patient consent as a defense in a homicide charge.

In total 10 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted against SB 210 on Wednesday.

Three Republicans — Senate President Jason Ellsworth, Sen. Walt Sales, and Sen. Daniel Salomon — voted "Nay" on the third reading after voting "Yay" on the second reading. Republican Sen. Daniel Zolnikov voted in favor of the measure Wednesday after voting against the bill during second reading.

Original story posted at 4:28 PM, Feb 21, 2023: HELENA — A bill that would significantly change the protections for physicians who aid patients in ending their own life has passed a key vote in the Montana Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, Senate Bill 210 passed second reading Tuesday by a margin of two votes with eight Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the measure. The bill would remove patient consent as a defense in a homicide charge.

Proponents of the bill say it is to stop suicide in all forms. A 2009 ruling from the Montana Supreme Court, Baxter v. Montana, has allowed physician-assisted death in the state, noting there is “nothing in Montana statutes that say physician aid in dying is against public policy.”

“That’s why I bring this bill today,” said Glimm addressing the Senate Tuesday, “ to definitively say that physician-assisted suicide is not public policy in the state of Montana.”

Opponents of SB 210 testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 1 that the legislation would effectively shut down the practice of doctors and physicians helping terminally ill patients end their own life because doctors could face homicide charges for their actions.

Hospice physician Dr. Colette Kirchhoff testified that, in her experience, physician-assisted death is rare but happens.

“Our ability to prolong life is extensive now,” explained Kirchoff. “I am seeing more difficulty at the end of life as far as suffering and more people have made up their minds that when no more can be done, they’d like to choose when, how and where they’re going to die.”

Since the Baxter v. Montana ruling, some form of legislation has been brought before the Legislature each session to prevent physician-assisted death from happening in the state.

SB 210 still needs to pass its third reading in the Senate before moving to the House.