Howard Dean Flip-Flops on Assisted Suicide, But Still Supports It

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 22, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Howard Dean Flip-Flops on Assisted Suicide, But Still Supports It

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 22, 2003

Washington, DC ( — Howard Dean is waffling on the issue of assisted suicide — now claiming he doesn’t support the grisly practice, even though current and past statements he’s made indicate he favors allowing states and doctors to engage in it.

In a statement made in association with the launch of Doctors for Dean, a group of physicians who support his presidential bid, Dean told reporters over the weekend, "I don’t advocate assisted suicide."

"I think what we really need very badly in this country is to restore the doctor-patient relationship so private decisions can remain private and out of the political realm."

However, in an interview with Oregon Public Radio on August 21, Dean said, "I think states have to make up their own mind" regarding the legality of assisted suicide.

"I, as a physician, would not be comfortable administering lethal drugs, but I think this a very private, personal decision and I think individual physicians and patients have the right to make that private decision," Dean said in the August interview.

Dean also criticized the Bush administration in the radio interview for its efforts to disallow the use of federal controlled drugs in assisted suicides in Oregon, the only state to legalize the practice. All of the assisted suicides there have involved such drugs.

"I am very amused by the Right Wing — including the president and administration –who talk about liberty but then decide they’re going to scrutinize everyone’s behavior and tell them what they can and cannot do," said Dean.

Lori Kehoe, a legislative analyst on bioethics issues for the National Right to Life Committee, took Dean to task for his comments.

"Killing a patient at his or her most vulnerable time is not liberty — it’s abandonment," Kehoe told

In his remarks the other day, Dean also claimed studies indicated 50 to 60% of Medicare dollars are spent in the last six months of life and he said some of that money may not be well-spent.

Dean claimed doctors have become "disconnected" from their patients. In that climate, doctors who don’t know families may not say "I think we’ve done everything we can" to a terminal patient or the patient’s family, Dean said.

However, the opposite appears to be happening.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, some doctors who have been retained by her estranged husband Michael are reluctant to say she could improve with therapy and proper medical care while others are certain that they could provide Terri with therapy that will improve her condition.

In the case of Jason Childress, doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center were ready to pull the plug and give up hope on Jason, who was injured in a car accident. They removed him from a ventilator without providing his father with a seven-day advance notice as required by state law.

Dean also drew criticism from the pro-life community for his remarks backing Michael Schiavo’s assertion that Terri would want to die and her feeding tube should be removed.