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Advocates: Supreme Court Nominee Could Damage End-of-Life Choices

Montana is among six states that allows terminally ill patients the right to die with medical consultation. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has written against the practice. (Roco Julie/Flickr)
Montana is among six states that allows terminally ill patients the right to die with medical consultation. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has written against the practice. (Roco Julie/Flickr)
February 2, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – Advocates for end-of-life choices are concerned about President Donald Trump's pick for Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch.

Montana is among six states where medical aid in dying is an option for terminally ill patients at the end of their lives. In 2006, Gorsuch argued against the practice in his book, "The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”

Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for the end-of-life advocacy organization Compassion and Choices, argued that assisted suicide and euthanasia are very different from medical aid in dying laws.

"Medical aid in dying is when a medical professional, a physician, prescribes a life-ending medication to give to a person who is an adult, who is terminally ill - which means six months or less to live - and who will then self-ingest the medication if and when suffering becomes too great,” Díaz explained.

In his book, Gorsuch argued that assisted suicide could create an environment in which some lives are considered less valuable.

But Díaz emphasized that the six states that have approved aid in dying laws do not allow medical aid in dying for the purposes of assisted suicide or "mercy killings.” He separates assisted suicide as a term used when people who are not sound of mind are convinced to kill themselves.

Díaz said Compassion and Choices is working on a case in Vermont in which physicians are asking to be exempt from the state's legal requirement that they inform terminally-ill patients about the option to end their lives. He said this is where erosion of the law is most likely to occur nationwide, and could even extend to health-care organizations seeking exemption on religious grounds.

"It would be unfortunate to essentially allow physicians to not provide the whole truth to patients or give patients all the information that they need to make educated decisions, in consultation with their loved ones and family members and spiritual advisors,” he said.

Polls show a growing support for a person's right to die with dignity. A 2016 Gallup poll found nearly seven in ten people agreed that a terminally ill patient should legally have the right to end his or her life if they wished.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT