Senate Holds Hearings on Problems With Oregon Assisted Suicide Law

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 26, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Holds Hearings on Problems With Oregon Assisted Suicide Law Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 26, 2006

Washington, DC ( — A Senate panel held a hearing on Oregon’s assisted suicide law on Thursday. The Pacific coast state is the only one in the nation to have approved assisted suicide and speakers at the hearing said the measure has warped and twisted the role of doctors and physicians as healers.

The hearing was the first on the topic of euthanasia or assisted suicide since the Supreme Court’s ruling in January that the Bush administration could not prohibit the use of federally regulated drugs in assisted suicides there.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a pro-life Kansas Republican, chaired the meeting of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, and told those attending that "unintended consequences" to the "slippery slope of doctor-assisted suicide."

"When the law permits killing as a ‘medical treatment,’ society’s moral guidelines are blurred," he said, according to an AP report.

Although he doesn’t intend to offer any legislation on the subject, Brownback wanted to hold the hearing to expose how assisted suicide has undermined the "culture of life" in the United States.

He worries that if more states adopt laws like Oregon’s that assisted suicide "could actually create a financial incentive for insurance companies to encourage prematurely ending the lives of those who need long-term care."

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, disagreed and said Oregon has installed safeguards in its assisted suicide law that have been successful. He said he voted against the assisted suicide law both times it was on the state ballot and told the committee his concerns about the law were unfounded.

"While I do not know how I would vote if the issue were to appear on the Oregon ballot once more, I believe it is time for me to acknowledge that my fears concerning the poor elderly were, thankfully, never realized," Wyden said, according to the AP report.

But Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, a leading disability rights group said that the longer the Oregon law stays around the more disabled patients are feeling obligated to end their lives when they become a so-called "burden" to their families.

"What looks to some like a choice to die begins to look more like a duty to die to many disability activists," she said.

Meanwhile, Wesley Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, who is a leading monitor of end of life issues, said the state is poorly monitoring assisted suicide and problems associated with it because it relies on doctors to self-report about the deaths.

Smith disagreed with the high court’s ruling and argued that "there is a proper public
policy role for the federal government against assisted suicide, such as prohibiting federally controlled substances from being used to intentionally end life."

Smith also worries that the United States will follow the Netherlands in moving from assisted suicide to euthanasia.

"In the thirty-plus years since euthanasia was redefined in the Netherlands as a legitimate tool of medical practice instead of a serious crime, … rather than being rare, statistics show
that euthanasia is now almost a matter of medical routine," he said.

"Once we accept the killing of terminally ill patients, as did the Dutch, we will invariably, over time, accept the killing of chronically ill patients, depressed patients, and ultimately perhaps, even children," predicted Smith.

So far, some 246 people have used the Oregon assisted suicide law to end their lives since it went into effect in 1998.