Free Euthanasia Essays: The Church and Assisted Suicide

Free Euthanasia Essays: The Church and Assisted Suicide

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Church groups wrote to all members of Congress urging support for the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998. Excerpts follow:

 

Swift enactment of this legislation is necessary due to a seriously flawed ruling by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno... The ruling asserts that Oregon, by rescinding its own civil and criminal penalties for assisting the suicides of certain patients, has established assisted suicide as a "legitimate medical practice" within Oregon's borders -- and that the federal government lacks any basis for disagreeing with this judgment. Under this ruling, however, federal intervention by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Oregon "may well be warranted" in cases where a physician "fails to comply with state procedures" regarding how and when to assist suicides. Federal law will protect the lives only of those deemed by the state to be "ineligible" for assisted suicide.

 

The Oregon assisted suicide law, in and of itself, poses an enormous threat to human dignity and to equal protection of all citizens under law. While continuing to forbid assistance in the suicide of a young and healthy person, this law rescinds criminal, civil and professional penalties for a doctor who assists the suicide of someone he or she believes "in good faith" to have six months to live. Ironically, once this "good faith" judgment is made it will never be proved wrong, because the patient will be dead from a drug overdose in a few days. Oregon's discriminatory policy stigmatizes an entire class of vulnerable patients as having lives not worth protecting. For this reason it has been found unconstitutional by the only federal court to review Oregon's law on the merits. See Lee v. Oregon, 891 F.Supp. 1429 (D. Or. 1995), vacated on other grounds, 107 F.3d 1382 (9th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 328 (1997).

 

Current federal policy demands an increased penalty when the victim of a crime is seriously ill or otherwise "unusually vulnerable" (United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual, p. 227, § 3A1.1). How, then, can the federal government now adjust its penalties under the Controlled Substances Act to confirm and enforce Oregon's discriminatory policy on assisted suicide -- where the vulnerable condition of the victim turns a crime into a "legitimate medical practice"?

 

Any "states' rights" argument on this issue is contradicted by the plain language and intent of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

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Provisions to ensure that narcotics and other dangerous drugs are used solely for a "legitimate medical purpose" (21 C.F.R. § 1306.04), and are never used to endanger "public health and safety" (21 U.S.C. § 823(b)(5)), were included in this Act and its implementing regulations precisely to establish a uniform federal standard that would not rely on the vagaries of individual state laws. The clear intent of such provisions was to prevent the use of federally regulated drugs for lethal overdoses, not only their use for addiction... Moreover, as the U.S. Supreme Court noted in last year's assisted suicide rulings, it is longstanding policy under the federal drug laws "to protect the terminally ill, no less than other patients," from potentially lethal drugs. See Washington v. Glucksberg, 117 S. Ct. 2258, 2272 (1997), quoting United States v. Rutherford, 442 U.S. 544, 558 (1979).

 

The proposed Act provides a focused and reasonable vehicle for reaffirming federal obligations to protect the vulnerable from lethal drugs. It affirms that assisting a patient's suicide is not one of the legitimate medical purposes for which controlled substances are entrusted to physicians by the federal government. It clearly distinguishes assisted suicide from legitimate pain control practices, using language which received nearly unanimous support from Congress last year as part of the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act. Finally, it provides for peer review by medical experts in any case where a physician believes this distinction is being misapplied to infringe upon the use of controlled substances for legitimate pain control.
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