Oregon Governor Slams Attorney General’s Appeal of Assisted Suicide Case

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 11, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Oregon Governor Slams Attorney General’s Appeal of Assisted Suicide Case Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
November 11, 2004

Salem, OR (LifeNews.com) — Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski is criticizing outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft for appealing a federal appeals court’s decision preventing the federal government from declaring that federally-controlled drugs can’t be used in assisted suicides because they don’t constitute a medical purpose.

"It is unfortunate that one of Attorney General Ashcroft’s last official acts was to file this petition,” Kulongoski told the Associated Press.

"It’s past time for this administration to focus on ways to work with Oregon — not against us," the Oregon governor said. Kulongoski indicated he urged the attorney general not to appeal the case.

Ashcroft, who announced this week he was leaving the Justice Department, previously ruled that the drugs used in assisted suicides in Oregon violate the Controlled Substances Act because killing a patient does not constitution a "legitimate medical purpose."

The Bush administration also says doctors took an oath to heal patients, not kill them. However, a federal appeals court, earlier this year, ruled against Ashcroft.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department submitted an appeal of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Portland attorney Eli Stutsman, author of the assisted suicide law that Oregon voters approved in 1998, called the appeal "politically motivated."

"We have won this case on the legal issues and we’ll continue to win it on legal issues,” Stutsman told the Associated Press.

All of the drugs used in the Oregon suicides fall under federal regulations and Ashcroft’s decision to prohibit use of the drugs "is the position maintained by 49 states, the federal government and leading associations of the medical profession," the Bush administration brief said.

Physicians have long been concerned that abuses of Oregon’s assisted suicide law could take place regularly, indicated by inconsistencies in statements from assisted suicide advocates and medical reports.

"Information regarding what happens at the time of taking the lethal medication is self-reported by the prescribing doctors, who were only present in 29% of the patients that took lethal medication in 2003," explained Dr. Kenneth Stevens, President of Physicians for Compassionate Care in Oregon. "The information from the other 71% of the patients is obtained second- and third-hand from others who were there."

"There are no safeguards to prevent euthanasia in Oregon. This is further evidence of the ‘slippery slope’ from assisted suicide to euthanasia," concluded Dr. Stevens.

Dr. Stevens notes that, according to the most recent reports from Oregon, only 5 percent of patients received psychological evaluations, despite the fact that depression is the most common condition leading to suicide.

In addition, Dr. Stevens pointed out that in 2001, two patients were given lethal prescriptions but did not use them. Two years later, one patient was still alive, meaning that they had not been terminally ill as required by law.

In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court ruled that no right to assisted suicide exists, but states could decide whether to allow assisted suicides to take place. It will probably decide early next year whether to review this case.

Some 170 people have died as a result of the Oregon assisted suicide law. Voters and lawmakers in several other states, such as Michigan, Maine and Hawaii, have turned back efforts to legalize assisted suicide.

Related web sites:
Ashcroft Supreme Court brief –
Physician: Abuses of Oregon Euthanasia Law Could Occur Regularly – https://www.lifenews.com/bio342.html