Montana judge dismisses assisted-suicide complaint

Associated Press Updated: December 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm • Published: December 15, 2013 0

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A state judge has dismissed a complaint against the state Board of Medical Examiners over a position paper about assisted suicide that a group says implies the practice is legal in Montana.

District Judge Mike Menahan said in his order Friday that the board withdrew all of its position papers in September, including the one about assisted suicide, so the complaint by Montanans Against Assisted Suicide is moot.

A 2009 state Supreme Court ruling found that nothing in state law explicitly prohibits physician-assisted suicide. The state Legislature earlier this year and in 2011 failed to clarify whether the practice is legal or illegal.

The board produced its position paper after a physician requested guidance from the board about the assisted-suicide issue. The paper, issued last year, said it would evaluate complaints against doctors on an individual basis, just as it would any other medical procedure or intervention.

Montanans Against Assisted Suicide demanded the board repeal its position, saying it wrongly implies that assisted suicide is legal. The group claimed the position paper has the effect of an administrative rule — which the board lacks the authority to enact — and it issued it without notice or participation by the public.

Menahan said in his order that the board proposed to settle the case by withdrawing its position paper and removing it from the board's website, if Montanans Against Assisted Suicide dropped its petition.

The group refused. That prompted the board to say Montanans Against Assisted Suicide was not interested in the position paper, but was using the petition to attack the 2009 Supreme Court decision on assisted suicide.

Craig Charlton, the group's attorney, said Friday he had not seen Menahan's decision and would not comment on it, but denied that the petition was being used for that purpose.

"We did also bring issues related to (the 2009 Supreme Court decision), but that was not the focus of the petition," Charlton said.

The board withdrew all of its position papers on Sept. 20 and asked Menahan to dismiss the case because it is now moot.

Menahan agreed, concluding in his order "there is no longer an actual case or controversy."

Charlton said a decision has not been made on whether to appeal.

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