DOJ to Appeal Ruling Barring Agency from Interfering with Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law
The Department of Justice last Friday filed papers with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco appealing a judge's ruling last month that banned the agency from interfering with Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. The department did not say on what grounds it was appealing but reiterated its contention that "there are important medical, ethical and legal distinctions between intentionally causing a patient's death and providing sufficient dosages of pain medication to eliminate or alleviate pain." Under the Death with Dignity Act -- which was approved by Oregon voters in 1994 and 1997 and is the only law of its kind in the nation -- terminally ill patients are permitted to request a lethal dose of drugs if two doctors have determined that the patients have less than six months to live and are mentally competent. Patients must administer the drugs themselves. State health officials say more than 90 people have committed suicide under the law. The Justice Department first challenged the law last November, claiming that prescribing drugs to allow a patient to commit suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose" under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Attorney General John Ashcroft subsequently issued a directive saying that doctors who continued to assist suicides would lose their licenses to dispense federally controlled substances. Oregon officials filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the federal government. In April, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones issued an injunction barring the Justice Department from interfering with the law, saying that Oregon voters "have chosen to resolve the moral, legal and ethical debate on physician-assisted suicide for themselves" (Holland, AP/Contra Costa Times, 5/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.