ASSISTED SUICIDE: Challenge to Oregon Law Moves to Floor
As expected, the Republican-dominated House Judiciary Committee voted 16-8 along party lines yesterday in favor of Chair Henry Hyde's (R-IL) bill to ban use of controlled substances for physician-assisted suicide. The bill "would discourage, if not prevent -- Oregon patients from using the state's first-in-the- nation law allowing physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live," the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (9/15). Were the measure to become law, physicians could lose their licenses and face up to 20 years in jail for using a controlled substance to help end a patient's life (Rubin, Los Angeles Times, 9/14). USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro notes, however, "Other methods of hastening death, such as those ghastly techniques made famous by Jack Kevorkian, would in theory still be permitted in Oregon" (9/15). The bill moves this month to the full House and could reach the Senate by the end of the year, where Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has threatened a filibuster (Los Angeles Times, 9/14).
Remember the Terminally Ill
USA Today's Shapiro notes that "there is a pervasive argument that there should be a uniform federal policy on assisted suicide, instead of depending on the vagaries of the voters in a single state." He argues that the bill in question would "represent an unequivocal breakthrough," had the Oregon law not already been in place because it "emphasizes the legal right of doctors to prescribe painkillers to alleviate suffering, 'even if ... the use of such a substance may increase the risk of death.'" He concludes, "Even though the goal of the death-with dignity movement is to allow for a graceful exit, the emotions unleashed by the right-to-die law divert attention from the larger question of how to care for the terminally ill. How heart-rending it would be if palliative care for the terminally ill is set back because a handful of desperate Oregonians crave legal sanction to end it all" (9/15).
Right to Die in Alaska
State Superior Court Judge Eric Sanders ruled late last week that "Alaskans do not have an undeniable right to physician-assisted suicide," rejecting arguments that privacy protections guaranteed in the state constitution give individuals the right to seek help in ending a life. State attorneys said "government has an obligation simply to protect human life, even when that obligation might override individual freedoms," adding that "lifting a ban on assisted suicide would lead to abuses." Attorney Robert Wagstaff, who argued in favor of physician-assisted suicide, said "We will be taking this to the (state) Supreme Court" (Campbell, Anchorage Daily News, 9/10).