Congress: Clinton Opposes Anti-Assisted Suicide Bills

Washington--The Clinton administration has decided to oppose legislation in Congress that would give federal drug police the authority to punish doctors who assist suicides in Oregon.

Acting Assistant Attorney General L. Anthony Sutin sent a three-page critique of the bill to pro-life Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose committee held a hearing on the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act introduced by pro-life Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla.

At least five Oregonians have ended their lives by dassisted suicide since the measure took effect last October.

Nickles and pro-life Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., introduced bills to stop assisted suicide after U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno concluded that federal law did not authorize the DEA to penalize doctors who prescribe lethal medication under Oregon's law. Hyde's version of the bill cleared a House Judiciary subcommittee by a narrow 6-5 vote.

Both bills would prohibit the dispensing or distribution of a federally regulated drug for the purpose of assisting a suicide. Doctors who violate the law could lose their licenses to prescribe such drugs.

Portland psychiatrist Dr. Gregory Hamilton is among those who want the federal government to stop assisted suicide in Oregon. In earlier testimony to Congress, Hamilton argued that assisted suicide will become a simple substitute for aggressive and skillful treatment for pain and suffering, worsening the plight of the dying.

Thomas Marzen, a lawyer who helped write the legislation, said the "last thing we wanted" was to interfere with the use of controlled substances for pain, as some opponents of the bill fear will happen. Marzen is general counsel for the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent & Disabled, a nonprofit organization known for its legal efforts to stop the withdrawal of life support from patients in a persistent vegetative state.

Marzen emphasized that the legislation clearly states that doctors can't be prosecuted for providing pain relief and that it would establish a peer-review panel for doctors accused of performing assisted suicide.

Also in Washington on Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Darlene Hooley, both Oregon Democrats opposed to the bills, said they are forming a task force to examine education, training, pain management and other issues related to treating the terminally ill. The effort could result in legislative proposals after the next Congress convenes in January.

Wyden said he has spoken about the effort with Nickles. The lawmakers say they will invite other opponents of Oregon's law to join in, including Hyde and the National Right To Life Committee.

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