PRESS RELEASE - April 16, 2002
Physicians for Compassionate Care
P.O. Box 6042
Portland, Oregon 97228
(503) 533-8154; Fax (503) 533-0429
ASSISTED-SUICIDE RULING EXPECTED WEDNESDAY
Wednesday morning, April 17, 2002, at 9:00 A.M., U.S. District Court
Judge Jones is expected to release his decision on Oregon v. Ashcroft.
Dr. Gregory Hamilton, spokesperson for Physicians for Compassionate
Care, said, “I expect Judge Jones to make his decision based
on technical, legal grounds rather than on the basis of broad Constitutional
issues or social policy.” Either way this Court decides, the
case is likely to be appealed. Physicians for Compassionate Care
has submitted a friend of the court
brief, which can be found at www.pccef.org., in support of the
Justice Department ruling that no state can exempt itself from federal
law forbidding the use of federally controlled substances for the
non-medical purpose of assisted suicide. Federal authority already
exists in this area.
The Justice Department’s nuanced and careful ruling adds protections
for doctors and patients. It clarifies that aggressive pain management
is legitimate medical care even if in rare instances it may increase
the likelihood of a patient’s death. Both the ruling and letters
to doctors clearly state that doctors’ prescribing practices
will NOT be receiving increased scrutiny. Only the assisted-suicide
reporting forms themselves will be needed. Dr. Hamilton is outraged
at attempts by assisted-suicide advocates to frighten patients by
misrepresenting the Justice Department ruling as creating new investigative
authority when the ruling only adds protection to doctors and patients. “These
misleading scare tactics by assisted-suicide proponents are irresponsible
and unfounded." Since 1992, ten states have strengthend laws against
assisted suicide and added reassurances like those in the DOJ ruling.
In every case, per capita morphine use increased the following year.
The average increase was more than 50%.
The most recent Oregon Health Division report demonstrates that
there was not one case of assisted suicide in 2001 where uncontrollable
pain was documented as the primary motive. Dr. Hamilton noted, “The
reasons for overdoses were all psychological and social concerns,
not pain.” This is consistent with the Journal of the American
Medical Association (12/13/00) finding that, “Among patients
who were neither depressed nor hopeless, none had high desire for
hastened death” (p.2910). “That’s because we
can treat pain,” Hamilton said. “The problem is depression
and feelings of hopelessness, feelings which can be made worse by
the assisted- suicide proponents’ exaggerated and grotesque
portrayals of the normal dying process.”
The first publicly reported assisted-suicide case was diagnosed
as depressed. In another case, Kate Cheney was given an overdose
by Kaiser HMO despite being found ineligible for assisted suicide,
because she was demented and under pressure from her family. Other
dangers and abuses are documented in the PCC brief and in a newly
released book, The Case Against Assisted Suicide for the Right to
End of Life Care, by Drs. Foley and Hendin, Johns Hopkins Press,
The Justice Department ruling protects patients against such abuses
and protects pain care.
All statements may be quoted as from Dr. Gregory Hamilton, spokesperson
for PCC, where he is co-founder and past-president. For further
information call Dr. Hamilton at (503) 816-2224.