Statement by Congressman Joseph R. Pitts on Lethal Drug Abuse

Prevention Act, (H.R. 4006), July 14, 1998

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of H.R. 4006, the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998. This bill will prohibit the dispensing or distribution of a controlled substance in order to cause or assist suicide or euthanasia.

Mr. Chairman, I strongly believe that we can and must do better for our disabled and ill citizens than kill them. You cannot solve problems by getting rid of the people to whom the problems happen. When a teenager says her life is not worth living because she has lost her boyfriend, we don't say, "Well, that's her choice." We recognize it as a cry for help, as a view that can and will be changed.

Statistics show that of those who attempt suicide and are stopped, less than 5% have gone on to kill themselves five years later. What a tragedy it would be for the more than 95% who survived if we had turned our backs and not tried to stop them from taking their lives. Sadly, that is exactly what opponents of H.R. 4006 seek to do.

I know that it will be said it is different for those who are terminally ill. But a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that of the 24% who are terminally ill who said they wanted to die, all were suffering from clinically diagnosable depression. Depression is an illness, and it distorts judgment. We should treat it in terminally ill individuals as much as in others.

Let no one suppose, however, that this is an issue that applies only to the terminally ill. Authorizing assisted suicide for those with terminal illness is only the tip of the iceberg. We can see what happened in the Netherlands. In 1981, a Dutch court said that under certain conditions, a doctor could assist a terminally ill person's suicide. In 1982, another court extended that to elderly people who were not terminally ill, but in chronic bad health, a decision upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court in 1984. In 1986, the Dutch Supreme Court said that people with disabilities could be killed.

In 1989 Holland moved from voluntary assisted suicide to nonvoluntary euthanasia when the Supreme Court said that doctors could give lethal injections to children born with Down syndrome. In 1991 a Dutch court legitimized killing a 25 year old woman with mental illness, and in 1994 the Supreme Court said that a woman, with no physical illness or disability, but who was depressed because of the death of her last remaining child, could be killed.

Once you accept the view that death is a solution to human problems, it becomes very hard to draw lines. Gradually, it will be seen as an answer to more and more problems, for less and less weighty reasons. We in America must not start down that road.

My colleagues from Oregon argue that Congress has no business in this area, that it should be left entirely up to the state of Oregon. They miss the point that we are talking about federally controlled drugs. Under existing federal law, it is generally illegal to dispense or distribute these drugs unless you have a special license or "registration" from the federal government. If you are a medical practitioner or pharmacist, you are granted that federal registration to prescribe certain of these federally controlled substances for a legitimate medical purpose.

Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in the first place because drug abuse is a national problem. A state cannot nullify the federal law if it chooses, as a matter of state law, to legalize the use of heroin or LSD. The same Attorney General who overturned the ruling of the professionals at the federal Drug Enforcement Administration on this matter has successfully gotten injunctions to close cannabis clubs in California that were selling marijuana for supposed medicinal purposes as authorized by a California referendum.

Mr. Chairman, you can't have it both ways. If my distinguished colleagues from Oregon really want to assert states' rights, they should be pushing for the complete repeal of the federal Controlled Substances Act. But while it is in effect, for the federal government to permit the dispensing of otherwise prohibited federally controlled drugs to kill patients means the federal government is affirmatively facilitating assisted suicide.

The American people don't want this to happen, by a margin of more than 2 to 1. A Wirthlin Worldwide poll in March found that 65% oppose allowing the use of "federally controlled drugs for the purpose of assisted suicide and euthanasia."

Mr. Chairman, the Declaration of Independence describes life as something that is "inalienable"--a right so fundamental that it cannot be given away even voluntarily. The principal author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in 1809 that "The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

Our country stands at a crossroads between the way of death and the way of life. I urge that this subcommittee lead us in the life-affirming direction by reporting out the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998.

Source: Congressional Record: July 21, 1998 (Extensions)

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