The right-to-die advocacy group the
has launched a campaign urging lawmakers to "override" Attorney General
John Ashcroft's decision to pursue disciplinary action against doctors
who prescribe lethal doses of drugs for terminally ill patients under
Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, the
AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette
reports. The group says Ashcroft's order will have a "chilling effect"
on doctors, making them hesitant to prescribe pain medication (Pfleger,
AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 11/28). On Nov. 6, Ashcroft
wrote a memo to DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson stating that the agency
has the legal authority to revoke the prescription licenses of doctors
who "participate in an assisted suicide using federally controlled
substances." The law effectively overturns Oregon's Death with Dignity
Act, which was approved by voters in state referenda in 1994 and 1997.
Under the law, doctors may provide, "but not administer, a lethal
prescription to terminally ill patients who are Oregon residents." Two
physicians must concur that the patient has "less than six months to
live, has voluntarily chosen to die and is able to make health-related
Daily Health Policy Report,
11/7). While an Oregon judge has temporarily blocked the order, the
Hemlock Society is using newspaper advertisements and letters asking
lawmakers to act or persuade President Bush to overturn Ashcroft's
directive (AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 11/28). The
advertisements state: "[P]hysicians in every state may be reluctant to
prescribe serious pain-relief medication, because if their patients die,
Ashcroft's DEA agents may come after them." Therefore, the directive is
"an unwarranted and cruel intrusion into the private lives and personal
choices of all Americans" (Hemlock Society Web site, 11/28). .
However, disability-rights group "Not Dead Yet"
challenged the Hemlock Society's assertion that Ashcroft's order will
hamper pain treatment because under Oregon's law, barbiturates and not
pain medication are used for patients during physician-assisted
suicides. Stephen Drake, a research analyst for Not Dead Yet, said, "We
want to make clear that aggressive pain control is a legitimate medical
use of federally controlled substances, [while] ... intentional killing
is not" (AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 11/28).