Assisted Suicide Court Decision Draws Opposition From Doctors

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 27, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicide Court Decision Draws Opposition From Doctors

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 27, 2004

San Francisco, CA ( — A federal appeals court’s decision backing Oregon’s assisted suicide law against a challenge from the Bush administration is drawing opposition from doctors groups. They say Attorney General John Ashcroft was right to prevent the use of federally controlled drugs in assisted suicides in the state.

"In an all-too-familiar scenario, activist judges have thwarted the clear intent of the law and the constitutional balance of powers," noted David Stevens, M.D., Executive Director of the 17,000-member Christian Medical Association.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Ashcroft overstepped his bounds by declaring that the use of federally regulated drugs in assisted suicides violated the Controlled Substances Act. All assisted suicides in Oregon have involved such drugs.

"The result is putting deadly drugs into the hands of physicians who will use them not to heal or to relieve pain, but simply to kill," Dr. Stevens added. "This is not medicine; this is not compassion; it is killing."

Stevens said the focus should be on providing physicians with the tools to provide pain relief for their patients.

"What we need is not more power for doctors who use drugs to kill their patients, but more power for doctors who use drugs to heal and comfort their patients," Stevens said.

The American Medical Association continues to oppose assisted suicide, though the Oregon Medical Association remains neutral on the issue of euthanasia.

AMA policy states that, "Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s professional role."

"It is critical that the medical profession redouble its efforts to ensure that dying patients are provided optimal treatment for their pain and other discomfort. The use of more aggressive comfort care measures, including greater reliance on hospice care, can alleviate the physical and emotional suffering that dying patients experience," the doctors group says.

The AMA "strongly opposes any bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, as these practices are fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer."

Dr. Gregory Hamilton, of Physicians for Compassionate Care, says the appeals court decision paves the way for abuses of the Oregon assisted suicide law to continue.

"The abuses of assisted suicide in Oregon, including giving depressed patients, and mentally ill patients with questionable competence, lethal overdoses, as happened in the case of Michael Freeland, make it clear that the federal government was right to protect patients by declaring that assisted suicide is a violation of the Controlled Substances Act," Hamilton explained.

Related web sites:
Christian Medical Association –
Physicians for Compassionate Care –