Winning in Idaho

Butch Otto
By Margaret Dore, Esq., MBA

On April 5, 2011, Idaho Governor Butch Otto signed Senate Bill 1070 into law.[1] The bill explicitly provided that causing or aiding a suicide is a felony.[2]  

The bill supplemented existing Idaho law, which already imposed civil and criminal liability on doctors and others who cause or aid a suicide.[3] The bill's "Statement of Purpose" said: "This legislation will supplement existing common law and statutory law by confirming that it is illegal to cause or assist in the suicide of another."[4]

The bill was introduced in response to efforts by Compassion & Choices to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Idaho. The issue came to a head after that organization's legal director wrote articles claiming that the practice, which she called "aid in dying," was already legal in Idaho. Compassion & Choices was formerly known as the Hemlock Society.[5]

The legal director's articles included "Aid in Dying:  Law, Geography and Standard of Care in Idaho," published in The Advocate, the official publication of the Idaho State Bar.[6] Responding letters to the editor stated that the article was "a gross misunderstanding of Idaho law" and that "[f]alse claims about what the law of Idaho actually is, published in The Advocate, cannot possibly benefit public debate on this issue."

These letters and other letters can be viewed here, here and here.  A direct rebuttal to the article can be viewed here.

The vote to pass the new bill was overwhelming: the Senate vote was 31 to 2; the House vote was 61 to 8.[7] The new law was codified as Idaho Code Ann. Section 18-4017 and went into effect on July 1, 2011.[8]

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[1]  Bill Status Report, S1070 (last entry).
[2]  The bill stated:
(1) A person is guilty of a felony if such person, with the purpose of assisting another person to commit or to attempt to commit suicide, knowingly and intentionally either: (a)  Provides the physical means by which another person commits or attempts to commit suicide; or (b)  Participates in a physical act by which another person commits or attempts to commit suicide. (Emphasis added).
[3]  Then existing law included Cramer v. Slater, 146 Idaho 868, 878, 204 P.3d 508 (2009), stating that doctors "can be held liable for [a] patient's suicide." Existing law also included a common law crime in which an "aider and abettor" of suicide is guilty of murder. Assisted suicide can also be statutorily charged as murder. See Margaret K. Dore, "Aid in Dying: Not Legal in Idaho; Not About Choice," The Advocate, official publication of the Idaho State Bar, Vol. 52, No. 9, pages 18-20, September 2010 (describing existing law prior to the new bill's enactment); and The Hon. Robert E. Bakes, Retired Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, Letters to the Editor, "Legislature rejected euthanasia,The Advocate, September 2010 ("in both the Idaho criminal statutes as well as I.C.6-1012, the Idaho legislature has rejected physician-assisted suicide").  
[4]  Revised Statement of Purpose, RS20288. 
[5]  Ian Dowbiggin, A CONCISE HISTORY OF EUTHANASIA: LIFE, DEATH, GOD AND MEDICINE,  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 146, (2007) (In 2003, Hemlock changed its name to End-of-Life Choices, which merged with Compassion in Dying in 2004, to form Compassion & Choices).
[6]  Kathryn Tucker & Christine Salmi, "Aid in Dying:  Law, Geography and Standard of Care in Idaho," The Advocate, the official publication of the Idaho State Bar Association, No. 8, pp.42-45 (August 2010).
[7]  Bill Status Report, S1070, entries for March 11, 2011 and March 28, 2011.
[8]  Id., last entry.