The status of assisted suicide in the US state of Montana is curiously ambiguous. In 2009 the Montana Supreme Court ruled that “a terminally ill patient’s consent to physician aid in dying constitutes a statutory defense to a charge of homicide against the aiding physician”. This effectively permitted assisted suicide – without input from the Montana legislature.
Ever since then, opponents and supporters of assisted suicide have tried almost every year to introduce bills to regulate or to ban assisted suicide. None of them have succeeded.
The latest bill to ban assisted suicide almost succeeded but failed at the very last minute in a classic case of legislative comedy.
The bill, which declared that a patient’s consent would not be a defense for a doctor who assisted someone in ending their life, passed a second reading on a 52-48 vote on Tuesday. But on the third reading on Wednesday, four legislators changed their votes and the result was tied 50-50. Hence the bill was defeated.
What explained the change?
Two lawmakers changed their vote to support assisted suicide, making Wednesday’s vote 50-50. Then one decided not to support it, making it 51-49, and another, Peggy Webb, a Republican who opposes assisted suicide, made a mistake and voted for it, making it 50-50.
Such is life.
“It was a mistake,” said Ms Webb. “I hit yes and then thought, ‘No, I don’t want assisted suicide,’ and changed the vote. It was too late to change it back.”
She said that she remained opposed. “I think life is sacred from birth to death and I think it should be a natural death. I don’t think we should play god. I know people who are suffering but doctors can make them comfortable in most cases.”
The sponsor of the bill, Brad Tschida, was philosophical about his colleague’s error. “No snowflake in an avalanche feels guilty,” he said. “Human beings are emotional creatures more than they are rational.”
Parramatta is just 20 minutes west of the BioEdge office. It’s not a city which has made a huge mark on the world, although not long ago an ISIS-inspired teenager shot dead a police employee and ended up dead himself. It has a lot of historic buildings from the colonial era, surrounded by high rise office buildings, drab shops and a huge park.
A few weeks ago the park hosted Tropfest, billed as the world’s largest short film festival. The crowds watched the films on huge screens as they picnicked on the grass. I was amazed that the winner was a 7-minute film about euthanasia, “The Mother Situation”. With excellent acting and snappy dialogue, it is a brilliant black comedy. Three adult children are delighted to hear that their mother wants to be euthanised – but then she changes her mind.
The director, Matt Day, says that it is not an anti-euthanasia film, but I haven’t seen anything which illustrates more vividly the danger of elder abuse. Sure, it’s absurd and a bit unrealistic but it sends a powerful message. Check it out.
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