updated 12/6/2008 5:03:52 PM ET 2008-12-06T22:03:52

A Montana judge has issued a ruling saying residents of the state have the right to doctor-assisted suicide.

The ruling issued late Friday by state District Court Judge Dorothy McCarter makes Montana the third state in which doctor-assisted suicide is legal.

The judge said Saturday she ruled in a lawsuit filed by a terminally ill Billings man, four physicians and a nonprofit patients rights group, Compassion & Choices.

McCarter's ruling holds that mentally competent, terminally ill Montanans have a right to obtain medications that can be self-administered to bring about a peaceful death if they find their suffering to be unbearable.

The ruling also says physicians can prescribe such medication without fear of criminal prosecution.

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