X-Message-Number: 12007
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 1999 06:38:25 -0700
From: David Brandt-Erichsen <>
Subject: Federal overturn of Oregon law

AP (Friday, June 25, 1999)
By John Hughes 
   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The American Medical Association has endorsed a
   bill that would prohibit the use of controlled substances for
   doctor-assisted suicide, a spokesman for the group said Thursday.
   The move by the AMA's 20-member Board of Trustees could boost efforts
   on Capitol Hill to curtail the landmark Oregon law, which allowed 15
   patients to take their lives last year.
   "We are pleased," said Brook Simmons, a spokesman for Sen. Don
   Nickles, R-Okla. "We look forward to the AMA helping us pass this bill
   into law."
   The AMA endorsed the measures this week during the organization's
   national policy-making meeting in Chicago, said AMA president Dr.
   Thomas Reardon.
   "I think the general feeling was that the modifications were enough
   that this would not have an impact on patients, and physicians would
   still feel comfortable with aggressive treatment," Reardon said.
   Nickles, the assistant majority leader, and House Judiciary Chairman
   Henry Hyde, R-Ill., have introduced bills for the second straight year
   that would discourage -- if not prevent -- Oregon patients from using
   the assisted-suicide law to end their lives.
   Backers of the Oregon law view the legislation as an attack on the
   lone state in the nation that has legalized physician-assisted suicide
   for terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live.
   While the bills don't single out Oregon, they would make if difficult
   for the law to function, because patients prefer controlled substances
   such as barbiturates as a safe and effective way to end their
   suffering, the Oregon law's backers say.
   The AMA and other medical groups opposed last year's bill, fearing the
   threat of an investigation would discourage doctors from prescribing
   pain medication.
   A group spokesman, who declined to be named, said the AMA supports the
   Nickles bill this year because it removed the potential
   "criminalization" of doctors' pain treatment decisions.
   The National Hospice Organization, which also supports the
   Hyde-Nickles bill after opposing it last year, gave a similar reason
   for their change in views.
   The bill no longer calls for a board or committee that would report on
   physicians' activities and potentially wrongly accuse doctors of
   assisted suicide when patients die after receiving pain medication,
   officials of the group said earlier this week.
   The AMA endorsement comes after other medical groups have decided to
   back the bill, including the hospice group, the American Society of
   Anesthesiologists and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
   Barbara Coombs Lee, who helped write the Oregon law, said the AMA
   Board members are "allowing their zeal for opposition to assisted
   dying to cloud their judgment."
   She said the current Hyde-Nickles bills pose a greater threat for
   jailing doctors for prescribing medication than the bills the AMA
   opposed last year.
   Even before the AMA confirmed its decision, Sen. Ron Wyden -- a fierce
   defender of the Oregon law -- released a letter urging the group to
   "I'm hopeful that as we show how intrusive the Nickles bill is ... the
   vast majority of physicians in the country are going to be supportive
   of our approach," Wyden, D-Ore., said in an interview.
   Wyden and Sens. Connie Mack, R-Fla., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., have
   introduced a bill that would promote pain treatment but would not
   change Oregon's law.
   The Hyde-Nickles bills also make it clear that controlled substances
   are "a legitimate medical purpose" for treating pain and call for more
   training and education to improve end-of-life care.
   At a hearing on the Hyde bill Thursday, medical professionals differed
   on whether the legislation would encourage or discourage better pain
   "Nothing in this bill will change what I do daily," said Dr. Walter
   Hunter, associate medical director for VistaCare Hospice in
   Scottsdale, Ariz. "Nothing in this bill frightens me I will become a
   target" of federal investigators.
   But Dr. David Orentlicher, a professor at the Indiana School of Law,
   argued that the bills would compromise pain care because of a fear of
   "Doctors must now worry about federal, state and local law enforcement
   personnel roaming the halls of hospitals and nursing homes and looking
   over their shoulders when they try to meet the needs of their dying
   patients," Orentlicher said in testimony.
   The hearing was held in the constitution subcommittee of the House
   Judiciary Committee. The subcommittee had scheduled no vote on the
   bill as of Thursday afternoon.
   Last year, the full House and Senate Judiciary committees passed the
   Hyde-Nickles bills, but the measures stalled on the floors of both

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=12007