Free Euthanasia Essays: Euthanasia and the Pain Relief Promotion Act

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Euthanasia and the Pain Relief Promotion Act

President Clinton said that the key question regarding the Nickles/Lieberman Pain Relief Promotion Act is "whether the bill as written would have a chilling effect on doctors writing medication for pain relief on terminally ill patients."

The question he raised is a testable proposition. Language almost identical to that found in the Pain Relief Promotion Act has been enacted in ten states in recent years - and the effect of such language on the use of powerful pain relief medication such as morphine has been dramatically positive.

There is considerable data from states passing new laws against assisted suicide since 1992. During this period, ten states passed new laws that ban intentionally assisting suicide (or that strengthen existing bans), including language that affirms the use of medications to control pain even when this may unintentionally increase the risk of death. Data on morphine use from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) show that per capita use of morphine always increased in these states afterward, sometimes dramatically so (in Iowa, Rhode Island and South Dakota, morphine use doubled). The average change in morphine use in these ten states was an increase of over 50%.

During the same period, four states passed laws against assisted suicide that did not include language affirming pain control like that found in the federal Pain Relief Promotion Act. Even here, there is little evidence of a significant "chilling effect" on morphine use; but per capita use of morphine tended to stay about the same or to increase only slightly. In these four states, where new bans on assisted suicide lacked the kind of positive language on pain control found in the Pain Relief Promotion Act, morphine use rose by an average of 3%.

Turning back to the ten states with language similar to that of the Pain Relief Promotion Act, one can reasonably predict that the impact of passing the federal Act would be even more positive for pain control, for the following reasons:

1. These states actually passed new bans (or established new civil penalties for doctors) where none previously existed. By contrast, in the vast majority of states the Pain Relief Promotion Act establishes no new ban at all - it is already a state crime (and/or a violation of state medical licensing standards) to assist suicide, and thus an automatic violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act to use a federally controlled drug in such a practice.

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