OREGON: Will DEA Be Overruled On Assisted-Suicide?
According to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), an internal review team appointed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has concluded that "federal law does not prohibit doctors from carrying out Oregon's assisted suicide law," the Portland Oregonian reports. The Justice Department review was prompted last fall after Drug Enforcement Administration head Thomas Constantine, at the urging of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), said Oregon's assisted-suicide law would violate the Controlled Substances Act. Constantine issued his opinion without consulting with Reno, who "referred the issue to an internal review team to determine whether Constantine's interpretation ... was accurate." Wyden said "he's hopeful" that Reno "will accept the team's conclusion" on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. "I think the key thing is that the attorney general told me personally this call was going to be based on legal grounds," he said.
In response to review team's recommendations, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) said, "It's what we were hoping to hear, that Oregon would be able to go ahead and implement its own laws." The governor called the development "a victory for the 60% of Oregonians who wanted this law," and he noted that the recommendations fall in line with Oregon Deputy Attorney General David Schuman's interpretation of federal narcotics law. According to the Oregonian, Schuman met with Justice Department officials in November to argue that the original intent of the Controlled Substances Act was "to deal with the abuse and trafficking of controlled substances, not with medical practices deemed legal under state law."
As the Oregonian notes, the issue will not be complete until comments are made by the U.S. Solicitor General, among others. Kitzhaber and other state officials are optimistic that a final ruling in favor of the state law will come soon. Meanwhile, state officials are debating whether "physicians would have to comply with a state Board of Pharmacy emergency rule that requires doctors to divulge when they" write a prescription for assisted suicide. Some are concerned that such a "rule violates patient confidentiality."
Opponents of assisted suicide in the nation's capital, including congressional Republicans, have declined to comment on whether new legislation will be introduced to stop Oregon from implementing its law. The Oregonian also notes that the law faces further legal challenges. A federal judge in Oregon "will hear arguments February 18 about whether he should reinstate a lawsuit challenging the act's constitutionality" (Barnett/Hogan/Green, 1/24). (Back to Contents)