Euthanasia Backers Condemn Brownback Bill Limiting Assisted Suicides

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 15, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Euthanasia Backers Condemn Brownback Bill Limiting Assisted Suicides Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 15, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Backers of assisted suicide are condemning a bill sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, that would prohibit the use of federally controlled narcotics in assisted suicides. All of the assisted suicides in Oregon, the only state to legalize the practice, have involved such federally regulated drugs.

Brownback announced the introduction of the Assisted Suicide Prevention Act and one senator has already pledged to block it.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and fierce supporter of the state’s assisted suicide law, said he would place a hold on the legislation once Congress returns from its August recess. That means he would filibuster the bill if it came up for debate and Brownback would need 60 votes to stop debate.

Wyden spokeswoman Melissa Merz called the bill a sham by Republican lawmakers to appeal to pro-life advocates before the November election.

"As we’ve seen in recent months, the Senate leadership has brought up these types of divisive social issues instead of addressing the serious issues that affect the country," Merz told the Associated Press. "We expect more of that when we come back in session in September."

The bill is in response to a Supreme Court decision in a long battle the Bush administration has waged to prohibit the use of certain narcotics to kill people in Oregon.

In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled that the Bush administration could not use the Controlled Substances Act, which governs illegal narcotics, to stop the use of such drugs in assisted suicides.

However, the decision paved the way for Congressional legislation to accomplish the same purpose and Sen. Sam Brownback hopes to promote a bill to do that.

“When the law permits killing as a medical ‘treatment,’ society’s moral guidelines are blurred, and killing could gain acceptance as a solution for the chronically ill or vulnerable,” Brownback said in a statement obtained.

But Brownback may have problems getting the 60 votes needed to stop debate or the 50 necessary to approve the measure.

He will have to convince lawmakers like Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican, who opposes assisted suicide but says he stands by the high court’s decision.

"I accept the Supreme Court’s decision and Congress should do the same," he told AP.

Brownback’s bill already enjoys the support of pro-life groups, including a national organization for doctors and other medical professionals who are Christians. But, pro-euthanasia groups like Compassion & Choices, will oppose it.

Kathryn Tucker, legal director for C&C says the bill would make physicians more fearful of treating patient pain.

"We already know physicians undertreat pain. It’s a serious problem, and we should not exacerbate that by giving physicians reason to be afraid to give dying patients comfort from pain," she said.

Brownback disputes that saying the bill would not unfairly punish doctors who are trying to provide patients with legitimate pain relief medication.

"By only penalizing doctors for using a federally controlled substance for the stated or undisputed purpose of assisted suicide … the bill does not constrain doctors from offering palliative care that brings pain relief to patients," he explained.

Last May, Brownback chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the impact of assisted suicide in places where it has been widely practiced.

Several experts testified that in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal, doctors have started experimenting with euthanasia and infanticide.

A September 2005 article in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet reported that half of the newborn babies who died in Flanders, Belgium between August 1999 and July 2000 were “helped” in that regard by their doctors.

“The American Medical Association and disability rights groups are strongly opposed to physician-assisted suicide because it is antithetical to the doctor’s role as a healer and it jeopardizes the ability of the infirm and helpless to defend themselves," Brownback said.

"I doubt Americans want the government to decide when life is worth preserving and when life can be destroyed," he concluded.

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that patients had a right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment and, in 1997, the court ruled unanimously that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide but that states may ban or allow the practice.

ACTION: Contact your U.S. senators and ask them to support the Assisted Suicide Prevention Act. You can find complete contact information here.