You may have the right to control your own life, but what about your own death? This is a question facing several states across the U.S., including, most recently, Vermont and Montana. While physician aid-in-dying, or assisted suicide, has been legal in Oregon for almost two decades and legal in Washington for almost five years, other states have proved resistant to the idea. Reason TV was on the scene as this legal and moral battle played out in a somewhat surprising place: Montana, where conservative Republicans dominate local politics.
“We have a certain tradition here, going back to frontier days, of saying there are certain areas the government ought to stay out of,” says Robert Connell, a Montana attorney who argued in the state’s landmark Supreme Court case, Baxter v. Montana. Connell’s client, U.S. Marine veteran and retired trucker Robert Baxter, suffered from a terminal illness called lymphocytic leukemia and wanted the ability to take medication that would hasten his death and end his suffering. He died before Montana’s Supreme Court could even issue the Baxter decision, which recognized a constitutional right to assisted suicide for all Montanans.