ANACONDA — Roberta King watched her father die over the course of 12 years.
Diagnosed with a form of leukemia, Bob Baxter knew he would never recover. He decided, instead, to pursue a physician-aided death and say goodbye on his own terms.
The disease progressed and King, 48, said she began to understand. Now an advocate for physician-aided death, she spoke Monday at the Hearst Free Library in Anaconda to raise awareness of the issue.
Compassion & Choices, a national nonprofit that promotes physician-aided death as an option for terminally ill patients, hosted the presentation and public discussion.
King also explained a recent Montana Supreme Court ruling that upholds patients’ right to die if they are terminally ill, mentally competent and able to self-administer. It affirmed a 2008 decision by Judge Dorothy McCarter in Helena district court.
Baxter, of Billings, had been a plaintiff in that case. He died of lymphoma on Dec. 5, 2008, the same day Judge McCarter handed down her ruling.
King, the youngest of Baxter’s four children, told The Montana Standard she came to realize her father’s death wasn’t about her. It was about him.
“He should have had a choice,” King said. “Everyone should have that choice.”
About 10 people attended the presentation in Anaconda, asked questions and offered their own opinions.
Caroline Anderson, a 61-year-old registered nurse with the Community Hospital of Anaconda, said she lost her mother on Oct. 25 to lung cancer.
The death was painful, Anderson told The Standard, and a physician-aided death would have come as a benefit.
“It would have given (my mother) the ability to live better, knowing the end was when she chose,” Anderson said. “She could have died with dignity.”
Denyse Mazzolini, 64, offered an opposing view and said physician-aided death will open the door to too many other circumstances.
Mazzolini, a member of the Anaconda Catholic Community, said she believes in compassion and relieving a person’s pain as much as possible, but does not agree with any aid in suicide.
“I just don’t think it is right,” Mazzolini said. “No human being has the right to take their own life. It’s in the hands of God.”
Jessica Grennan, Montana Campaign Manager with Compassion & Choices, said they will give presentations in Sheridan and Townsend later this week.
The group wants to make sure it appears in smaller towns to answer questions and take away the taboo, Grennan said. She suggested people contact their local legislators to share their opinions on the subject.
“No matter how you feel on this issue, it’s important we promote public dialogue,” Grennan said.
State Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, plans to introduce a bill when the Legislature convenes in January that would codify the state Supreme Court decision.
State Sen. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls, is also working on a bill that would counter the decision and ban physician-aided death in Montana.
-- Reporter George Plaven may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.