Monday, August 31, 2009

An incidental discussion of rural health care, along with self-reliance and other traits associated with rural folk

I've been writing about the Montana Constitution's right to dignity (see here), the only such right included in any of the fifty state constitutions. So this story by Kirk Johnson in the New York Times caught my eye. The headline is "Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case," and it's about just what it suggests. But there are a couple of references to the rural character of Montana and its residents that I wanted to highlight here. Some relevant excerpts follow:
The legal foundation for both sides is a free-spirited, libertarian-tinctured State Constitution written in 1972 at the height of a privacy-rights movement that swept through this part of the West in the aftermath of the 1960s. Echoes of a righteous era are reflected in language about keeping government at bay and maintaining individual autonomy and dignity.
* * *
[A] list of unusual Montana factors have elevated and complicated the debate.Montana already has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, for example. As a huge state with a small population — about one million people in an area more than half the size of Texas — there are pockets of deep rural life where access to health care, in living or dying, is severely limited.
Julie French, a Democratic state legislator from Scobey, population 1,082, in far northeast Montana where the population density is about 1.4 persons per square mile, opposes any "expansion of death rights." French's quote in the NYT story implicitly references the lack of choices for many rural folk, including choices regarding health care:

Before we deal with assisted suicide, we should make sure first and foremost that everybody has equal access. . . . It is not simply whether everyone has a right to choose; it’s whether they are given all the choices.

Indeed. For many of French's constituents, even rudimentary health care is hours away. Scobey is in Daniels County, on Montana's High Line (border with Canada). It's current population is estimated at 1,650, and it has lost almost 20% of its population just since the 2000 Census.

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