ANTI-EUTHANASIA BILL MOVING, PLACED ON SENATE CALENDAR.
Passed by the House 271-156 last October, the bill would prevent the use of federally controlled drugs to kill patients through assisted suicide and euthanasia. There is only one American jurisdiction--Oregon--that has legalized assisting suicide. To date, all publicly reported deaths from assisted suicide in Oregon have been caused by the use of such federally controlled drugs.
As a positive alternative to euthanasia, the Pain Relief Promotion Act would also take numerous steps to improve pain control. It is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Don Nickles (R-Ok.) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Ct.). There are an additional 41 Senate co-sponsors.
The majority report of the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended passage of the bill with a substitute offered by Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.). The report contains hard-hitting arguments that outline the danger of continuing the current federal facilitation of assisting suicide. These include
* In the second year of Oregon's practice of legalized assisted suicide, "in 47% of the cases patients were influenced ... by `concern about being a burden on others.'"
* "[A] predominant motivation was fear of future disability. ... Disability rights activists frequently point out that nondisabled people can have a distorted and negative view of the quality of life with a disability, and that newly disabled people go through an adjustment period before realizing this."
* "Most physicians are ill-equipped to detect depression in their patients at all, much less to determine what level of clinical depression is sufficient to cause `impaired judgment.'"
The report also quoted from the testimony of Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Or.), who appeared before the committee. He said,
"To [allow federally controlled substances to be used in physician-assisted suicide] ...would have consequences ... outlined by Derek Humphry, ... one of the most vocal and visible advocates of assisted suicide, in his 1998 book Freedom to Die ... where he reveals the true reason why he believes assisted suicide's time has come: "... [O]ne must look at the realities of the increasing cost of health care in an aging society, because in the final analysis, economics, not the quest for broadened individual liberties or increased autonomy, will drive assisted suicide to the plateau of acceptable practice."
Smith then quoted the following chilling remark Humphry, who founded the Hemlock Society: "Is there, in fact, a duty to die--a responsibility within the family unit--that should remain voluntary but expected nonetheless?"
Sen. Smith commented, "Mr. Humphry answers yes, but I believe we must answer his vision of Orwellian ugliness with a resounding no."
The Senate Judiciary Committee report also commented on the likely effect of passing the bill:
"The committee believes that just as Federal facilitation of assisting suicide is likely to increase its incidence, refusal of the Federal Government to facilitate it is likely to decrease that incidence. A study published in the April 23, 1998, New England Journal of Medicine showed that while 36 percent of doctors would be willing to write lethal prescriptions if assisting suicide were legal, only 11 percent are willing to do so while it is against the law. Currently, while 18.3 percent of doctors have been asked to assist suicide with a lethal prescription, only 3.3 percent have done so. This suggests that legal limits are effectively deterring over two-thirds of doctors who otherwise might assist suicide."
Commenting on the current status of the bill, NRLC Execu-tive Director David N. O'Steen, Ph.D., told NRL News, "Whether this bill is brought to the Senate floor and receives the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster may well, in the long run, determine the fate of millions of vulnerable Americans.
"Whether that happens," he added, "depends on what senators hear from their constituents in the near future. I strongly urge every concerned citizen to write their senators in strong support of immediate enactment of the Pain Relief Promotion Act, as quickly as possible.">EN