Montana became the third state to allow physician-assisted suicide after its Supreme Court determined Thursday that nothing in the state law prevents patients from seeking it.
While the high court didn't go as far as extending constitutional protections to the procedure as District Judge Dorothy McCarter of Helena did the year before, it did give doctors in the state the freedom to prescribe the necessary drugs to mentally competent, terminally ill patients without fear of being prosecuted.
"In physician aid in dying, the patient, not the physician, commits the final death-causing act by self-administering a lethal dose of medicine," Justice William Leaphart wrote for the court.
Prior to the ruling, only Oregon and Washington state allowed assisted suicides for terminally ill patients, with Oregon adopting the nation's first "death with dignity" law in 1997.
Assisted suicide opponents have promised to take the fight in Montana to the Legislature.