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January 23, 2006

Physicians for Compassionate Care responds to
Supreme Court Decision

It is very important to understand that last week's ruling on Gonzales v Oregon by the Supreme Court needs to be interpreted in the correct way. The court did not uphold the Oregon statute on assisted suicide as a constitutional matter. In fact, the Oregon statute was not under review.

The majority opinion by Justice Kennedy acknowledged that the Justice Department was "reasonable" in asserting that medicine's boundaries preclude physician assisted suicide. However, the court decision was very specific to the attorney general's role, authority, and actions in defining the "medical legitimacy" and applying the Controlled Substance Act to physician assisted suicide. The dissenting opinion by Justice Scalia stated "if the term 'legitimate medical purpose' has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death."

The official position of the American College of Physicians opposes Physician Assisted Suicide because:

- Assisted Suicide undermines the patient-physician relationship
- Assisted Suicide changes the role of the physician in society
- Assisted Suicide puts vulnerable populations at risk

Besides these self-evident reasons, assisted Suicide in Oregon is not a legitimate medical act because the statute sets up a "Shroud of Secrecy" around assisted suicide, as reporting is not subjected to peer review and patients and families are prevented from pursuing malpractice or other legal avenues. There are no other medical procedures like this, where physicians can practice in complete secrecy without any consequence.

The U.S. Congress needs to debate the legitimacy of acts of "Medical Killing" such as Physician Assisted Suicide. We look forward to this debate.

© Copyright 2006
Physicians for Compassionate Care Educational Foundation