Assisted Suicide Highlights Difference Between President Bush, John Kerry

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 30, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicide Highlights Difference Between President Bush, John Kerry

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 30, 2004

Washington, DC ( — The issue of assisted suicide is further displaying the wide gulf that separates President George W. Bush and likely Democratic nominee John Kerry on pro-life issues.

As is the case with abortion and embryonic stem cell research, President Bush finds himself on the same side as the pro-life community on the issue of euthanasia while Kerry is at odds with those who oppose such grisly practices.

Last week, a federal appeals court overturned a Bush administration ruling that doctors in Oregon couldn’t use federally regulated drugs in assisted suicides.

Though state law makes Oregon the only one in the nation to authorize physicians to end their patients’ lives, the Bush administration says the use of such drugs violates federal law.

That’s a position former president Bill Clinton didn’t take and one Kerry is unlikely to embrace.

In November 1997, then-Drug Enforcement Administrator Thomas Constantine had announced that assisted suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose." Therefore, "prescribing a federally controlled substance with the intent of assisting a suicide" violates federal law.

However, in June 1998, the Attorney General Janet Reno, a Clinton appointee, partially overruled Constantine’s decision.

By November 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a decision reversing Reno’s ruling and reinstating prior policy against the prescription of such drugs to kill patients.

In an interview with an Oregon newspaper earlier this month, likely Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said he supports states’ decisions whether or not to allow assisted suicides.

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."

Should Kerry win in November, those who monitor end-of-life issues say Kerry will likely reverse the Bush administration’s decision on assisted suicide.

"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," pro-life attorney Tom Marzen told

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