More MS news articles for Nov 2001

Oregon Sues to Protect Assisted-Suicide Law

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters Health) Nov 08 - The state of Oregon went to court on Wednesday to defend its assisted-suicide law, saying a US Department of Justice decision that would undo the statute exceeded federal authority.

In motions filed in US District Court, the state said US Attorney General John Ashcroft had no right to meddle with the state law and asked the court to allow doctors to continue to help patients die while the legal battle was waged.

The law, the only one of its kind in the US, was passed by voters twice and went into effect in 1997 after withstanding court challenges. Nearly 100 people have used the law, which allows doctors to administer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients.

The first round of the legal fight, over whether to keep the law in effect, was scheduled for Thursday afternoon. A decision on that motion could come quickly.

Ashcroft on Tuesday reversed a Clinton administration order and said doctors would be subject to arrest by the Drug Enforcement Administration if they gave patients lethal doses of drugs.

The suit was joined by three terminally ill patients. Another 25 patients pressed doctors around the state to obtain life-ending drugs in case the Ashcroft decision was upheld.

No doctors came forward to immediately defy Ashcroft's ruling, however. "We don't have any Kevorkians in Oregon," said Ann Jackson, director of the Oregon Hospice Association, referring to the Michigan doctor repeatedly jailed for assisting suicides.

Those who have used the law to die are "people who have controlled their lives. Now they want to control their deaths," Jackson said, adding that 90% of the suicides have taken place in hospice settings.

Gregory Hamilton, a doctor who fought against the law, said his organization, Physicians for Compassionate Care, was considering filing a brief in support of Ashcroft. He said assisted suicide was unnecessary because of readily available pain treatments.

But most Oregonians appeared to support the law. Polls conducted by Portland television stations found 60% to 80% in favor. Governor John Kitzhaber, a former doctor, and all but one member of the Oregon congressional delegation backed the law, including Republican Congressman Peter Defazio.

While physicians are licensed by the state to practice medicine, the DEA registers doctors to prescribe drugs and the agency is responsible for enforcing the federal controlled substances law. Ashcroft based his decision on a Supreme Court ruling on May 14 that there was no exception in the federal drug law for the medical use of marijuana and that federal law may not be overridden by the legislative decisions of individual states.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd