X-Message-Number: 12228
Date: Wed, 04 Aug 1999 13:54:12 -0700
From: David Brandt-Erichsen <>
Subject: Anti-Oregon bill stalled - for now

Wednesday, August 4, 1999

    Gridlock stalls the measure, which would negate Oregon's
    assisted-suicide law and has wide support
    By Jim Barnett of The Oregonian staff
    WASHINGTON -- A bill that would block Oregon's one-of-a-kind law
    allowing physician-assisted suicide enjoys broad support on Capitol
    Hill. But its path through the legislative process proved again on
    Tuesday to be anything but a smooth sail.
    For the second time in two weeks, the Judiciary Committee ended its
    regular work session before getting to the bill, called the Pain
    Relief Promotion Act. The bill would prevent doctors from prescribing
    lethal doses of controlled drugs to terminally ill patients, as
    permitted by Oregon's law.
    The cause for delay: old-fashioned gridlock. An arcane debate over
    class-action lawsuits chewed up the committee's time. But despite
    support from 146 House co-sponsors, the bill faces other pressures
    that could prevent it from becoming law this year.
    They include:
     Time: The Judiciary Committee's delay means the bill must wait
    until Congress returns from its four-week August break. The busy
    Commerce Committee also has jurisdiction but has not acted. Even if
    both committees approve the bill, it still must compete for floor time
    with must-pass spending bills and other year-end matters.
     Procedure: Last year, Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., tried to pass
    similar legislation by attaching it to an annual spending bill. But
    last week, the Senate adopted an old rule -- known as "Rule 16" --
    that would prevent such "nongermane" amendments.
    "The net result is that Sen. Nickles' task is tougher today than when
    he introduced the bill," said Josh Kardon, an aide to Sen. Ron Wyden,
    D-Ore., the Oregon law's chief defender in the Senate.
     Politics: President Clinton has said he opposes the practice of
    assisted suicide. But the administration has not yet taken a stand on
    the bill, and some Republican members, including Sen. Gordon Smith,
    R-Ore., doubt that he will sign.
    "I just think the Clinton administration is playing politics as
    usual," Smith said in an interview on Tuesday.
    At the heart of the legislation is a dispute over the intent of the
    Controlled Substances Act, the federal law that regulates powerful
    drugs. The bill before Congress would eliminate assisted suicide as a
    legitimate use under the law.
    A similar bill offered last year by Nickles and Rep. Henry Hyde,
    R-Ill., the House Judiciary chairman, met opposition from the American
    Medical Association and other medical groups.
    Doctors said they feared the bill could subject them to prosecution if
    patients died while taking heavy doses of controlled drugs to ease
    pain. But the new bill states that pain relief is a legitimate use of
    controlled drugs. It also creates grants to study pain management.
    Now, the AMA and other former opponents support the bill. But the
    Oregon Medical Association is on record as opposing it, saying that
    members have the "same substantive concerns" as they did last year.

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