Physician-assisted suicide lives on

The latest appeal in a case against Oregon's Death with Dignity Act fails.

By Andis Robeznieks — Posted Sept. 6, 2004

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Legal action connected to Attorney General John Ashcroft's effort to stop assisted suicide in Oregon may finally get to the Supreme Court now that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Ashcroft's request to rehear the case before an 11-judge panel.

A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 on May 26 that Ashcroft didn't have authority to revoke the licenses to prescribe controlled substances from doctors who wrote lethal prescriptions allowed by Oregon's Death With Dignity Act. On July 12, the Dept. of Justice requested that a larger panel rehear the case, and the announcement denying that request came Aug. 16. "Considering it took more than a year for the three-judge panel to make up their minds, this seemed very quick," said Peter Rasmussen, MD, a plaintiff in the case.

Justice Dept. spokesman Charles Miller said a decision on whether to appeal must be made within 90 days and no decision had been made yet.

Ken Stevens, MD, leader of Physicians for Compassionate Care, an anti-assisted suicide group, said he hoped the appeals would continue.

"I personally feel the attorney general was correct in saying using controlled substances to assist a suicide is not a legitimate medical practice," Dr. Stevens said. "I don't feel that it's the proper thing for a doctor to do."

AMA policy opposes physician-assisted suicide, stating that it is "fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer."

Dr. Rasmussen said that, once this case is settled, more significant work can get done. "When this is over, we can concentrate on providing good end-of-life care in all 50 states and that's where the effort should be placed," he said.

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External links

AMA policy E-2.211 opposing physician-assisted suicide (link)

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion State of Oregon v. Ashcroft, in pdf (link)

Oregon Dept. of Human Services Death With Dignity Act reports (link)

Death With Dignity National Center press release on 9th Circuit opinion in Oregon v. Ashcroft (link)

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