ASSISTED SUICIDE: Debate Continues; House Set To Vote
Today's Los Angeles Times looks at the current debate over legislation designed to thwart Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), "would authorize the Drug Enforcement Administration specifically to investigate whether doctors are prescribing pain killers not just to alleviate suffering but to hasten death." The Times notes that physicians, nurses and hospices are opposed to the bill, arguing that it would not only "undo Oregon's pioneering law" but hinder health care professionals nationwide from providing adequate pain control. Though few Oregonians have taken advantage of the assisted-suicide law since it took effect last year, health professionals argue that it has helped improve care for the terminally ill. Physicians are "prescribing more morphine and other pain-killing drugs for terminally ill patients." Mark Gibson, health policy adviser to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), said, "Our experience here in Oregon demonstrates that, far from making Oregon into a horrible place where people are committing euthanasia, the law has had a salutary effect on the doctor-patient relationship." Residents in the state are also reported to be seeking hospice care in greater numbers.
A Moral Matter
The Times notes that the Catholic Church is teaming with other groups to support Rep. Hyde's bill. "We're trying to prevent the federal government from facilitating assisted suicide. The institutionalization of this would pose a threat to very vulnerable people, especially the poor," said Richard Doerflinger of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Catholic Health Association also supports Hyde's bill, but asked its sponsors "to differentiate between medication given to ameliorate pain that also happens to hasten death and medication given to cause death."
The Democratic members of Oregon's congressional delegation all oppose the Hyde bill, but Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith is "searching for a way to vote against assisted suicide without undermining pain treatment." Smith said, "I don't want to discourage in any way experimentation in the relief of pain" (Rubin, 9/15). According to the House Republican cloakroom, a House vote on the Hyde bill could come as early as tomorrow (9/15).
Ad Blitz In Michigan
Opponents of a Michigan ballot initiative that would legalize assisted suicide yesterday "let loose what they hope is a lethal dose of media ads," the Detroit Free Press reports. Citizens for Compassionate Care, a coalition of religious and other groups opposed to Proposal B, are spending $300,000 to air three television ads. A spokesperson for the group said the ads are only "the first wave of ... a $5 million-plus campaign to defeat" the assisted suicide measure. "We believe Proposal B will lead our state's weakest and most isolated residents into a climate where the right to die becomes a duty to die," said Concerned Women for America's Lori Yaklin. According to the Free Press, the "ads aim to raise doubts about the" ballot proposal. A spokesperson for Merian's Friends, the group supporting Proposal B, said his organization only "has about $70,000" on hand to fund its campaign activities (Christoff, 9/15).