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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”



Group Urges Lawmakers to 'Override' Attorney General's Directive Against Oregon Assisted Suicide Law

[Nov 28, 2001]

      The right-to-die advocacy group the Hemlock Society 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 decisions" (Kaiser 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). .


Unfounded Fears?
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).