Montana Doctors Could Face Jail Time for Assisted Suicide


After the Baxter ruling, Kress said he was "slow to get on board."

"I didn't know how to go about it, the legality was a little uncertain and that concerned me," he said. "What was the dose and where do we get it and how much does it cost? I wanted another person to verify the patient was terminal and of sound mind. It was a big decision."

Since then, he has had 10 requests from patients and, "with a clear conscience," helped three to die.

"None of the people I wrote prescriptions for were suicidal -- in fact, they wanted to live," Kress told "These were terminal situations, people of sound mind with completely clear intellects. All kinds of issues that came up when people say why [physician assisted suicide] shouldn't happen melted away. It was clear that the situation was the right one."

HB 505 supporter Williams said his grassroots organization stays out of the "philosophical argument" and worries about "flaws of the law."

Williams said he meets his critics at numerous public forums and always addresses them the same way: "I lean back and ask them to tell me their story. Then I say, 'You know how these laws work -- that your heir can sign up for the lethal dose. They can pick it up and bring it home, and it can be administered without any oversight. If you struggled, no one would know."

But Kress said that these concerns have no grounds. "That would be murder and there are already murder statutes on the books and if someone uses them in an evil fashion for ill-gotten gains, they go down for murder," he said.

"In all of my cases, people understand completely what they are doing," he said. "There was no issue of anyone in the family getting financial gain from someone dying a few weeks early, the argument for elderly abuse."

Last year, Kress said he suspected a patient had been "bilked" by a relative and reported it to police. Most reputable physicians would do the same, he said. He also refused to help a patient to die because he was "cloudy" in his thinking. He turned away another who didn't want his Catholic family to know about his request to die.

"I told him we can help you get through your pain, but I don't want the last thing you leave your family to be a lie," said Kress. "Every situation is unique."

Critics also often argue that patients can stockpile medications without the help of a doctor, but Kress said they often don't work. Drugs like Seconal are also not readily available at any pharmacy.

"A lot of time when people take medication, they won't kill themselves," he said. "They go to sleep for a day and wake up, especially someone who has been on a large dose of narcotics."

Arguing in the legislature, Kress retold a compelling story about helping a man with terminal esophageal cancer. When the cancer began invading the man's chest, the pain was "unrelenting," Kress told committee members. "He knew he would only be able to swallow for a short time before his esophagus closed off. He decided it was time."

The patient did not want to die alone, so Kress, along with the hospice team and the man's sister were present for his death.

"He prepared the medication," explained Kress. "He then opened a bottle of Guinness and insisted we all join him in a toast. He thanked me for having the courage to write this prescription. He told me if there is anything I can use from his case to make aid in dying more available, that I please do so.

"He then sat in a comfortable chair. He drank the medication. In two minutes his speech was slurred. In three minutes he was asleep. His respirations had stopped in six minutes. In 12 minutes his pulse was absent and he had no heart sounds. All of us present were amazed at how peaceful his death was."

Kress said he had "no sleepless nights" after this death and was "proud that I had the courage to do the right thing for him."

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