A state district judge in Helena on Wednesday denied a request from the Montana Attorney General's Office to stay her judicial order that recently affirmed a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide.
In a one-page order, Judge Dorothy McCarter said the stay requested by the state agency would "deny the fundamental right of Montanans to die with dignity for a lengthy period of time while the case is being appealed."
Further explaining her decision, the judge said the stay was also denied because she "believes that there is a good chance that the Montana Supreme Court will affirm" her decision, which protects a fundamental constitutional interest.
McCarter ruled on Dec. 5 that mentally sound, terminally ill Montanans have a constitutional right to choose to end their lives using physician-prescribed medication. The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by a Billings man, Robert Baxter, who was later joined by four Montana doctors and the national nonprofit rights group Compassion & Choices.
The case was opposed by the state's Attorney General Office, which asked for the stay on Dec. 10, arguing that physician-assisted suicides should not be allowed until the Montana Supreme Court had ruled on the issue.
Both sides have said they support a review of the case by the state's high court. An appeal has yet to be filed.
A Missoula lawmaker has proposed a bill in the current Legislature that would incorporate McCarter's decision into state law. Montana becomes one of three states to allow dying patients to end their lives with a doctor's assistance, after Oregon Washington.
If McCarter had granted the state's request for a stay, the procedure would have remained illegal while an appeal was considered.
Baxter, who filed the initial lawsuit, died naturally of leukemia on the day McCarter issued the ruling in his favor. His family said he was not aware of the ruling when he died.