Baxter v. State – Case Brief Summary (Montana)

In Baxter v. State (2009) 354 Mont. 234 224 P.3d 1211, a statute provided "that a person commits the offense of deliberate homicide if 'the person purposely or knowingly causes the death of another human being '" (id., 224 P.3d at p. 1215), and another statute "established consent as a defense, stating the 'consent of the victim to conduct charged to constitute an offense or to the result thereof is a defense'" (ibid.).

Baxter held if the state prosecuted a physician for providing aid in dying to a terminally ill patient, "the physician may be shielded from liability pursuant to the consent statute." (Ibid.)

Plaintiffs isolate language from Baxter they deem helpful, such as "a physician who aids a terminally ill patient in dying is not directly involved in the final decision or the final act." (Baxter v. State, supra, 224 P.3d at p. 1217.)

That language, however, appears in the context of a discussion on whether physician aid in dying fell within an exception to the consent statute for conduct that "'is against public policy ... even though consented to.'" (Id. at p. 1215.)

Baxter noted a "survey of courts that have considered this issue yields unanimous understanding that consent is rendered ineffective as 'against public policy' in assault cases characterized by aggressive and combative acts that breach public peace and physically endanger others." (Id. at p. 1216.)

Baxter concluded physician aid in dying does not violate public policy because "each stage of the physician-patient interaction is private, civil, and compassionate." (Id. at p. 1217.)