RIGHT-TO-DIE: Pain Bill Provokes Strong Opinions
Commentary continues to pour in the wake of last week's House vote to pass the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999. Here is the latest roundup:
- New York Times: Calling the bill "cruel and intrusive," the editors argue that "Congress is behaving like a bad-tempered elephant, stomping and trumpeting to overturn an assisted-suicide law approved twice by the voters of Oregon." Noting that only 15 terminally ill people in the state chose to end their own lives in 1998, the editors call Oregon's Death with Dignity Act "a responsible effort to ease the suffering at the end of life." While the bill "masquerades as a progressive attempt to ensure pain relief," the editors assert that the provision in the bill which would subject physicians who prescribed a lethal dose of pain medication to a 20-year prison sentence "will discourage progressive pain relief, since doctors may fear they could be charged with intent to kill whenever a patients dies from the effects of pain medication." The editors conclude that the "Senate, or failing that, President Clinton should kill this bill, and let people deal with their own issues of life and death, in states that permit it" (10/30).
- Washington Post: Noting that assisted suicide is "an example of a policy area that should be left to states to decide according to their own democratic processes," the Post editorial says, "Ironically, the Republican House that passed this bill is one that professes deference to the states." The editors write that a person does not have to support assisted suicide "to wonder why Congress should be so eager to second-guess the balancing act that Oregon has attempted." When the Supreme Court "declined ... to constitutionalize the right to die in 1997," they were "correct not only as a matter of constitutional law but also as a matter of federal policy." The editors conclude that "Congress similarly should stay its hand in nationalizing a problem behind which lie a set of ethical issues that communities wish to handle differently" (11/1).
- Arizona Daily Star: The editors assert that the "Republicans in the House of Representatives ... passed a bill Wednesday that violates one of their own beliefs as it intrudes into personal behavior that should be left to the states." They agree with Harvard Professor Charles Fried's New York Times op-ed (10/29), which said, "Members of Congress have to learn that feeling deeply -- or wanting to seem to feel deeply --- about a subject like guns in schools, violence against women or physician-assisted suicide doesn't give them the right to legislate on it." The editorial concludes that the "conservative, states'-rights Republicans in Congress should have said it themselves" (11/1).
- Faye Girsh, president of the Hemlock Society USA: In a letter to USA Today, Girsh asserts that the Pain Relief Promotion Act "misses the point." She argues that it is "the suffering from terminal illness that causes people who are dying to consider hastening the process." Although "pain relief must improve," Girsh calls for an "opportunity for people to choose a peaceful death as a solution." She concludes that to "punish doctors who provide this compassionate help is an outrage to those doctors and to dying people in Oregon and this country" (11/1).