SALEM, Ore. (AP) The state of Oregon sued the U.S. government yesterday over a federal directive that essentially blocks the state”s assisted-suicide law.
The lawsuit challenges the authority of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to limit the practice of medicine in Oregon by attempting to bar physician-assisted suicides.
Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers also filed a motion yesterday seeking to temporarily prevent the federal government from implementing the order barring doctors from prescribing federally controlled substances to hasten the deaths of terminally ill patients.
“Ultimately, what we”re seeking to do is waylay the federal government from illegally interfering in the practice of medicine in Oregon,” said Kevin Neely, a spokesman for Myers.
On Tuesday, Ashcroft dealt what could be a fatal blow to the country”s only law permitting assisted suicides by serving notice on Oregon doctors that their licenses to prescribe federally controlled drugs will be revoked if they participate in Oregon”s Death with Dignity law.
The order does not call for criminal prosecution of doctors. And it does stipulate that pain management is a valid medical use of controlled substances.
But it effectively puts the state”s law on hold because a doctor would have to be willing to sacrifice his or her right to prescribe federally controlled medicines, which doctors say are essential for their work.
Right-to-die groups and other supporters of the Oregon law were angry that Ashcroft reversed the June 1998 order by his predecessor, Janet Reno, who prohibited federal drug agents from moving against doctors who use Oregon”s law.
“Fundamentally, the actions of the U.S. attorney general take away the right of the state to govern the practice of medicine,” Neely said.
At least 70 terminally ill people have ended their lives since the Oregon law took effect in 1997, according to the Oregon Health Division. All have done so with a federally controlled substance such as a barbiturate.
Under the law, doctors may provide but not administer a lethal prescription to terminally ill adult state residents. It requires that two doctors agree the patient has less than six months to live, has voluntarily chosen to die and is able to make health care decisions.
Unless an injunction is granted, assisted-suicide advocates and politicians say the law is probably on hold because doctors are not likely to run the risk of federal sanctions.