‘PAIN RELIEF’ ACT: A Full-Blown States’ Rights Issue
The New York Times reports that one day after the House passed the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999 people "from the governor to people in the streets" are invoking the power of states' rights, proving that "resistance to the House action is clearly strong and intensely felt." Although Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, passed with only 60% of state voter support two years ago, many Oregonians, including those opposed to the state's law, are "deeply anger[ed] over Federal interference." Technically, the House bill does not overturn the Oregon law, but it criminalizes the use of Federally controlled substances for the purpose of physician-aided suicide. While relatively small in scope (only 15 Oregonians opted to end their lives with medications last year) the legislation has prompted a full-blown states rights debate. One Oregon resident noted, "Congress has no right to tell Oregonians that their vote doesn't count." Peter Rasmussen, a Salem cancer specialist who aided two terminally ill patients under the Oregon law said, "I do believe that this will wind up in the courts ... I would consider being part of such a case (Verhovek, 10/29).
As expected, yesterday's House vote unleashed flood of feedback from interest groups and journalists. Here's a roundup of the opinions:
- Detroit News: While the bill is "nominally aimed at" improving "pain management," the "real purpose of the bill ... is to outlaw assisted suicide." The bill "distorts the federal Controlled Substances Act, which is designed to regulate the distribution of narcotics to hospitals and pharmacists." DEA agents are "ill-equipped" to enter the field of "regulating the interaction of physicians with their patients" (10/29).
- Death With Dignity National Center: "The bill would turn the DEA into a medical oversight body charged with investigating 'intent' and 'purpose' in a physician's care for a patient ... [leading to] excessive regulatory scrutiny, inappropriate disciplinary action and criminal prosecution" of doctors. The organization notes that the law would have a "chilling impact" on pain management (release, 10/29).
- Catholic Health Association: "The Pain Relief Promotion Act successfully integrates a much-needed emphasis and focus on improving palliative care and pain management for those who are chronically or terminally ill with the government's legitimate concern that federally regulated drugs not be used to assist suicide." Rev. Michael Place, Catholic Health Association President and CEO, asserts, "the legislation will go a long way in helping caregivers and healthcare facilities deliver compassionate care while lessening the desire for, and the ability to receive, physician-assisted suicide" (release, 10/29).
- Family Research Council: "In essence, Congress has said that no state has the power to take the life of an innocent human being. And those in pain, take heart: This bill has given palliative care researchers a shot in the arm -- help is on the way" (release, 10/29).