John Kerry Backs Oregon Assisted Suicide Law, Disagrees With Bush

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 19, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

John Kerry Backs Oregon Assisted Suicide Law, Disagrees With Bush

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 19, 2004

Salem, OR ( — In an interview with an Oregon newspaper, likely Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said he supports states’ decisions whether or not to allow assisted suicides. Kerry also appeared to disagree with an effort by President Bush to disallow federally controlled drugs to be used in suicides in the state.

Kerry said, "I think it’s up to the states to decide" whether or not to legalize assisted suicide.

"It’s a very complicated, thorny, moral, ethical issue that people wrestle with. And I don’t think it’s the government’s job to step in," Kerry told the Salem Statesman Journal newspaper.

To Tom Marzen, a leading pro-life attorney who monitors end of life issues, Kerry is taking out of both sides of his mouth.

"As usual, it seems that Kerry wants a foot in both camps without firm footing in either," Marzen tells "First he says that assisted suicide is a matter for the states. Then he says the whole business is all-so-very-complex that the government shouldn’t be involved at all."

Kerry’s comments make it appear he disagrees with the Bush administration about the use of federally controlled drugs in assisted suicides in Oregon.

Citing the Controlled Substances Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled last year that the drugs used in Oregon assisted suicides, all of which are federally regulated, can no longer be used. The state took the Bush administration to court over the decision and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on the outcome of the case.

But, when asked whether he would direct his attorney general, if elected, to back off of Ashcroft’s decision, Kerry refused to answer directly.

"I think the states have the right to wrestle with those kinds of issues," Kerry told the paper. "I have my own personal beliefs about life and about what you do."

Marzen, however, thinks Kerry’s comments reveal his unspoken intent to move away from the Bush administration’s position.

"I think it fair to say that [Kerry] would direct the federal government to stop insisting that allowing doctors to prescribe or pharmacists to dispense lethal drugs for assisted suicide violates federal law, even if it does not violate state law," Marzen told

"[Kerry’s] policy would clear the way for state laws against assisted suicide to fall like dominos," Marzen added.

Though his comments about letting states decide whether to legalize the grisly practice seems to point to deference to the Oregon suicide law and others considered in other states, Kerry wouldn’t say directly whether he supports legalization.

"I support living wills. I support decisions that doctors have to make," Kerry said.

"I think suicide is the wrong concept or approach personally. But I do understand, as a child who’s lost two parents in the last years, what pain management is and what proper treatment in the final moments and years of someone’s terminal illness is. But there is a distinction between suicide and management," Kerry added.

Again, Kerry seems to be taking both sides of the issue, Marzen says.

"He stays that he is personally opposed to suicide, but then implies that it might be understandable when there is pain," Marzen said. "But, then [he] recognizes there is a distinction between pain management and suicide."

Pro-life groups say living wills present problems.

Rita Marker, director of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, says living wills don’t protect patients and their right to appropriate medical care as well as a durable power of attorney.

"With a living will, what you’re essentially doing is giving all authority to an unknown physician," Marker explained.

Last year, Kerry refused to comment in-depth on the case of Terri Schiavo. The family of the disabled woman is battling her estranged husband’s efforts to take her life.

”I’m not going to trash anybody on it,” Kerry told the Miami Herald newspaper. "These are some very thorny, legitimate issues.”

Oregon is the only state to have legalized assisted suicide. Attempts to allow it have been defeated in Michigan, Maine, Wyoming and Hawaii.