The 17,000-member-strong association of physicians joined the lamenting of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling to allow physician-assisted suicide for Oregon patients.
In the case, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sought to block Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act”, which permits physicians to dispense lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who have six months left to live and wish to commit suicide. Under the Controlled Substance Act, such drugs would be considered narcotics and thereby illegal, according to arguments made by Ashcroft.
Judge J. Clifford Wallace said Attorney General John Ashcroft had interpreted an agency regulation, rather than the Controlled Substances Act itself.
"In an all-too-familiar scenario, activist judges have thwarted the clear intent of the law and the constitutional balance of powers,” said David Stevens, M.D., executive director of Christian Medical Association in a statement on behalf of the nation’s largest faith-based association of physicians.
Judge Richard A. Tallman said that the issue of physician-assisted suicide should be “entrusted to state lawmakers” and by trying to regulate medical practices in the state, Ashcroft “far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law.”
“This isn't about the Attorney General regulating a state's medical procedure,” said Senior Policy Director for Concerned Women for America Jan LaRue. “It's about enforcing the federal drug laws, which is clearly under his jurisdiction.”
LaRue also noted that physician-assisted suicide is condemned by the American Medical Association's ethical guidelines.
Oregon is the only state in the nation to have a law permitting assisted suicide. Stevens described the law as “putting deadly drugs into the hands of physicians who will use them not to heal or to relieve pain, but simply to kill. This is not medicine; this is not compassion; it is killing."
"What we need,” said Stevens, “is not more power for doctors who use drugs to kill their patients, but more power for doctors who use drugs to heal and comfort their patients. The whole reason the federal government regulates controlled substances is to prevent their use for harmful purposes. I can't think of any greater harm than to use the drugs to kill."