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Suicide law works.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The state Health Division's fourth annual report on physician-assisted suicide makes U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's efforts to overturn Oregon's landmark law even more bewildering than they were when he began them last fall.

The report shows that 21 terminally ill Oregonians committed suicide with the help of their doctors in 2001, six fewer than in each of the other two years since the law took effect. That's it - 21 Oregonians who died peacefully and with dignity in their sleep after taking lethal doses of medication.

None of the dire scenarios predicted by critics has come to pass. Outsiders are not moving to Oregon to end their lives. No one has failed to satisfy the requirements of the state's Death with Dignity Act - having two physicians agree that they have less than six months to live and are mentally competent. There have been a few minor complications but no botched suicide attempts.

All this leads one to wonder why the nation's top attorney, in the midst of a national crisis of unprecedented proportions, found it necessary to thwart the twice-stated will of Oregon voters by issuing an order that would revoke the licenses of physicians who prescribe lethal doses of drugs to the terminally ill.

Ashcroft's heavy-handed ruling was appealed by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, who argued that Ashcroft illegally reached his decision in a secretive process that allowed no public scrutiny or comment.

When the appeal is heard next month, Myers will no doubt also point out that the federal Controlled Substances Act, which Ashcroft claims prohibits patients from obtaining lethal drugs, was intended to prevent drug trafficking when it was passed three decades ago. It was not designed as a tool for an ideologically driven attorney general to use in meddling with states' long-recognized authority to regulate the practice of medicine.

Four years after its approval, assisted suicide continues to be a rarely, but effectively, used option for dying patients in Oregon. Fewer than one out of every 1,000 deaths in the state last year involved assisted suicide. It would be an exercise in extreme naivete to believe that at least as many or more deaths in other states weren't also the result of assisted suicide.

The difference is that Oregon physicians and patients aren't forced to engage in the charade that exists in other states - of prescribing high doses of pain medications to hide intentions that are obvious to everyone. Instead, Oregonians follow stringent procedures and requirements, including the detailed reporting process that resulted in the latest annual review.

The state's latest report makes it clear that the interference of the U.S. Justice Department in Oregon's assisted suicide law is entirely unwarranted. Perhaps Ashcroft will once again break away from the war on terrorism, as he did last fall, to read the report and reconsider his decision to interject the federal government into the life-and-death decisions of terminally ill Oregonians.
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Title Annotation:Report shows dire predictions unwarranted; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 10, 2002
Previous Article:Fixing Eugene's cradle.
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