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Montana's right to die law in jeopardy with new proposal

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T.J. Mutchler T.J. Mutchler
BILLINGS -

A terminally ill patient's right to die in Montana is now in jeopardy as state lawmakers consider a bill to criminalize doctors who assist patients in dying.

For one mother, that patient's right was her son's.

"T.J. loved being in the outdoors, he was the essence of a Montana boy," said Leslie Mutchler. "He loved to fish, it was his favorite thing in the world. You couldn't be around him and not feel his presence."

Mutchler said goodbye to her son Feb. 19. There were no surprises as T.J. Mutchler's death was planned.

"Got to give him hugs and say goodbye and that we loved him. He took the medication and within 10 minutes was asleep and within three hours he was gone."

Mutchler says her son ended his two-year battle with pancreatic cancer on his own terms. He refused chemotherapy and opted instead for a prescription that he could take when he was ready to die.

That choice was made legal in 2009 when Mutchler's terminally ill father Bob Baxter sought a similar prescription from his doctor. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in Baxter's favor.

Montana legislators are now considering a bill that would not only eliminate that option, it would expose doctors to prosecution. House Bill 536 would allow doctors to face charges of homicide for assisting in a patient's death.

Similar legislation is in place in as many as 44 states. Opponents of physician-assisted death warn of mercy killings and say the very practice violates a doctor's Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.

Mutchler says her son's choice spared him from suffering.

"T.J. did not die because he took the medication," she said. "He died because he had pancreatic cancer. I'm not advocating it for everyone, it's really just have the choice for when your own time comes."

We reached out to the legislator sponsoring the bill but did not receive a response. The bill will be up for a second hearing in the House on Wednesday.

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