The federal government - led by Attorney General John Ashcroft - should keep their nose out of Oregon's business. And for now a U.S. District judge agrees.
First some background. Back in 1994, Oregon voters approved a Death with Dignity law that allowed physicians there to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients. The physicians were barred from administering the drugs but they were permitted to prescribe the lethal amounts. The measure survived countless legal challenges and was again approved by Oregon voters in 1997. Since then at least 70 terminal patients have used the law.
But this week Attorney General Ashcroft issued a directive that said any Oregon physician who used federally controlled drugs for terminal patients could lose their medical license. But the follow day a District judge overruled Ashcroft at least for now. A hearing is scheduled next week on the unique assisted suicide law in Oregon.
Regardless of your position on assisted suicide, the federal government has no business trying to override the wishes of Oregon voters who twice now have approved the measure. I don't believe the federal government should dictate to the states how to conduct their medical practices. Some fear the Ashcroft directive might force physicians to cut back on powerful painkillers for terminal patients out of fear that the patients may use them for assisted suicide. That may well leave a terminal patient in severe pain because of the legal brouhaha between the state and the feds.
John Ashcroft is an honorable man and a good man but his personal religious views should not override the directive of state voters. The law in Oregon requires that two doctors agree the patient has less than six months to live, has voluntarily chosen to die and is capable of making health care decisions. If those are sufficient safeguards for Oregon residents then the federal government should stand silent on this issue.
Death with dignity beats the hell out of six months of intense pain and suffering for the patient and family. The states should have the power and ability to follow the wishes of their residents.