OREGON: DEA SAYS ASSISTED-SUICIDE LAW IS ILLEGAL
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Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law would result in doctors
violating federal narcotics laws, the Portland
Oregonian reports. In a letter last week to the chairs of the
U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees, DEA Administrator
Thomas Constantine wrote "that 'delivering, dispensing or
prescribing a controlled substance with the intent of assisting a
suicide' is not a 'legitimate medical purpose' allowed by law."
The letter was written in response to inquiries by the respective
committee chairs, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-
IL), who told Constantine "that Congress 'would have a serious
concern' if the agency allowed doctors to prescribe drugs for
According to the Oregonian, "[a]dministration officials and
assisted-suicide supporters played down the possibility of
sanctions against doctors." However, an official with the DEA in
Portland "said his office would start proceedings against doctors
who clearly prescribed drugs to aid in suicide." Arnold Lochner,
group supervisor in Portland of the DEA's diversion program,
said, "Assuming that the medical examiner or whatever ruled this
death to be suicide, and assuming someone ... dropped it in our
lap, I don't think we would have any choice but to proceed. But
are we going to go scouring the medical records? Probably not."
Separately, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said he
could not comment on President Clinton's views on the issue until
he first checked with the president, although he noted that the
president is on the record as opposing physician-assisted
suicide. The Oregonian notes that DEA sanctions against doctors
could go far toward curbing assisted-suicide since the DEA
"registers doctors to prescribe controlled substances, including
barbiturates and most other drugs that could be used in
physician-assisted suicide." Doctors who lost their DEA
certification "would be unable to prescribe such common
painkillers such as Tylenol with codeine."
The Oregonian reports that "[s]upporters of Oregon's law
vowed to sue the DEA if the agency moves against doctors. But
they remained skeptical the administration would do so." The
supporters noted that California physicians won a temporary court
injunction blocking the DEA from cracking down on doctors who
prescribed marijuana under that state's new medical marijuana
statute. Oregon Right to Die attorney Eli Stutsman said "[t]he
fact that Oregon voters approved the assisted suicide makes it a
legitimate medical purpose under the Controlled Substances Act."
Bill Wyatt, chief of staff to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D),
said, "Short of specific legal prohibitions, we expect Oregon
doctors should be able to operate under Oregon law without
federal intervention, and we believe that will happen"
(Suo/Hoover, 11/8). Click here for recent coverage of Oregon's
Death with Dignity Act.