USA Today Editorials Debate Assisted Suicide Issue
The "renew[ed] attack" on Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide is "misguided on several levels," according to a USA Today editorial. Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered drug-enforcement agents to investigate "any Oregon doctor who uses the law to respond to a dying patient's last wish" (USA Today, 11/14). Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, the only law of its kind in the nation, allows doctors to prescribe, but not administer, lethal drugs to a terminally ill patient after two physicians agree that the patient has less than six months to live, the patient has chosen to die voluntarily and is capable of making health care decisions (California Healthline, 11/9). The editorial continues, "If [Ashcroft's] threat stands ... physicians could have their right to prescribe all federally controlled drugs yanked, effectively depriving them of their livelihood" (USA Today, 11/14). Ashcroft's order was effectively "blocked," after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones ordered a temporary restraining order, requested by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, which will remain in effect through Nov. 20, when Jones "may rule on whether to grant a preliminary injunction until the case can be tried in court" (California Healthline, 11/9). According to the editorial, "backers of federal intervention," including Ashcroft, "cast themselves as advocates of states' rights. But apparently not when their own religious beliefs come into play." The editorial concludes, "Rather than imposing those beliefs on [terminally ill] patients ... and their doctors, they should be encouraging the states to ... find ways to deal compassionately with the fearful and the dying" (USA Today, 11/14).
In an "opposing view" editorial, Asa Hutchinson, administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, responds, saying, "The American public must be confident that [controlled substances] are used for legitimate medical purposes and will cause no undue harm to patients." He adds, "There is a clear consensus in the medical profession that assisting suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose." Hutchinson said that the "use of federal laws to govern controlled substances" was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, "regardless of what state laws might provide" (Hutchinson, USA Today, 11/14). The Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in May on the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, stating that the Controlled Substances Act "contains no exception for sick individuals" in the use of illegal drugs, including marijuana (California Healthline, 5/14). Hutchinson says the court's decision "prohibits states from allowing practices contrary to federal law," and therefore "it is vitally important that doctors be encouraged to use [controlled substances] for pain control, which is one of the most important alternatives to suicide." He concludes, "Federally controlled drugs should not be used to kill patients or to enable them to kill themselves" (USA Today, 11/14).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.