WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers are getting ready for a battle over assisted suicide, but no one on Capitol Hill knows when - or even if - the big fight will come.
Pro-life House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and pro-life Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., the assistant Senate majority leader, have introduced a bill that would deny physicians a federal license to prescribe drugs for assisted suicide.
They were motivated by Attorney General Janet Reno's recent announcement that federal drug agents will not try to prosecute or revoke the drug licenses of doctors who help terminally ill patients die under Oregon's pro-assisted suicide law.
But no House or Senate hearings have been scheduled. With lawmakers still grappling with other issues such as the federal budget, tobacco regulation and campaign finance reform, there seems little time left in this session of Congress for a battle on this touchy subject.
Hyde said his committee already is busy with the Child Custoy Protection Act and the federal partial-birth abortion ban.
"We have a very full plate in the social issues category," Hyde said. "The (assisted suicide) bill is a serious bill. We'll get to it in time, but I don't know when that will be."
Meanwhile, both sides want to be ready when the debate hits.
The National Right to Life Committee has made the Hyde-Nickels bill a priority and has deployed three staff members to promote it. Lori Hougens, a lobbyist with the group, said Right to Life has contacted 150 Congress members about assisted suicide since late last year.
"If the mix of members is any indication so far, I can't imagine how we would lose," Hougens said.
A pro-assisted-suicide group called Oregon Death With Dignity, who opposes the bil, has retained a public relations firm and sought the help of Oregon's congressional delegation.
Pro-assisted suicide Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said he intends to speak for "a long, long time" against the bill if it gets to the Senate floor. No comment was made as to whether he could sustain a filibuster or if anti assisted-suicide supporters could obtain a cloture vote.
Nickles said he has enlisted 18 cosponsors and predicts the bill will pass as easily as a bill last year that ensured no federal program or facility will be used in assisted suicide.
"I don't think it's that controversial," Nickles said. "I think it will pass overwhelmingly."
The bill is H.R. 4006.
Source: The Pro-Life Infonet, a daily compilation of pro-life news and educational information.