PRESS RELEASE - May 6, 2003
U.S. COURT OF APPEALS HEARING REGARDING THE USE OF FEDERALLY CONTROLLED
SUBSTANCES TO ASSIST SUICIDE
On May 7, 2003, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in Portland, Oregon,
regarding the case pertaining to the use of federally controlled
substances to assist suicide.
Physicians for Compassionate Care is hopeful that the panel and
appellate court will decide in favor of the U.S. Attorney General's
directive "that prescribing, dispensing, or administering federally
controlled substances to assist suicide violates the Controlled Substances
The U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the federal law regulating
controlled substances is uniform throughout the United States and
may not be nullified by the legislative actions of individual states.
Likewise, Oregon cannot exempt itself from the Federal Controlled
Substances Act laws and regulations.
The major American medical professional organizations have stated
repeatedly that physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible
with the physician's role as healer, and would pose serious societal
risks. Federally controlled substances include strong pain and sleeping
medications that are to be used for a "legitimate medical purpose".
To purposefully cause a patient's death by the writing of a prescription
for lethal medication is not a "legitimate medical purpose".
"Physician-assisted suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose.
It represents a reversal of the proper role of physician as 'healer,
comforter, and consoler'." said Dr. Kenneth Stevens, President of
Physicians for Compassionate Care. "By participating in physician-assisted
suicide, physicians are providing the direction and means for patient's
self-destruction. They are ordering the patient to die by writing
the prescription. Those favoring physician-assisted suicide are twisting
and corrupting the medical profession's ethics and ideals. Trust
is a physician's most important asset, and physician-assisted suicide
leads to a loss of patient's trust in his physician."
The experience of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon has shown
that intractable pain has been a very infrequent reason for the assisted
suicide, even though that has been the rallying cry for assisted
suicide. The drugs prescribed and used for physician-assisted suicide
in Oregon have been barbiturates (sleeping pills); they have not
been pain medications.
The U.S. Attorney General has reassured the physicians of Oregon
that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration considers the proper
prescribing of pain medications with the purpose of pain control
as a legitimate medical practice, even if the pain medication may
result in death.
The State of Oregon is in the midst of significant financial problems.
Patients who have been on the Oregon Health Plan are faced with significant
cutbacks in the financial support of their medical care. We have
had such non-terminal individuals contact members of our organization
requesting assisted suicide because they are not able to receive
adequate medical care. An individual with an 11-year history of chronic
pain called requesting assisted suicide because of his frustration
with cutbacks in his medical care. Oregon has created a disastrous
climate by allowing physician-assisted suicide, and at the same time
not providing adequate support of medical care for our citizens.
Our society and the medical profession should continue to focus
our attention on improving knowledge of and access to improved medical
and comfort care, and not on physician-assisted suicide. Society
and the medical profession have the duty to safeguard the value of
human life, especially life of the most vulnerable.
For further information call Dr. Kenneth Stevens at (503) 481-8410
or page him at 503-599-4439, email at firstname.lastname@example.org