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About Ellen F. Rosenblum
Attorney General Hardy Myers today announced his intention to take legal action in federal district court to protect Oregon's physician assisted suicide law. Myers made the announcement after receiving notification from US Department of Justice (US DOJ) officials that Attorney General John Ashcroft had reversed an earlier US DOJ opinion that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the US DOJ lacked legal authority to discipline or potentially prosecute Oregon physicians who prescribe controlled substances in accordance with Oregon's law.
"I regret that the new administration did not, as I believe they promised, give me the opportunity to review our legal analysis of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) before they reversed the interpretation of the CSA adopted by US DOJ in 1997," Myers said. "I see no alternative to filing a lawsuit to stop the federal government from pursuing legal action against law-abiding Oregon physicians."
Under the revised opinion, the DEA would interpret prescription of a lethal dose of a controlled substance to assist suicide as a violation of the CSA. This new interpretation allows the agency to pursue action to revoke prescription-writing privileges for Oregon physicians, and for United States Attorneys to pursue federal criminal prosecution, even though the physicians' actions are permitted by Oregon law.
"The Oregon Department of Justice will present a strong case that asserts this new US DOJ position is unlawful," Myers said. "In conjunction with patients and physicians, we will seek a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent the DEA from taking any action against Oregon doctors until the case is resolved."
Governor John Kitzhaber also indicated his concern with the recent federal action. "The U.S. Department of Justice decision will deprive terminally ill Oregonians of a crucially important choice in how they manage their final days," said Kitzhaber. "Oregonians are satisfied that we can responsibly implement physician aid in dying and this is an unprecedented federal intrusion on Oregon's ability to regulate the practice of medicine."
Governor Kitzhaber also expressed his concern that the USDOJ action will have a chilling effect on the willingness of doctors to aggressively treat pain due to their fear of prosecution.
Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law was approved twice by Oregon voters, once in 1994 by initiative and again in 1997 by legislative referral. The Oregon Health Division reports that 96 Oregonians have legally obtained prescriptions for lethal doses of drugs between 1998 and 2000.
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