Attorney General John Ashcroft sought to override the nation�s only law allowing assisted suicide, declaring that taking the life of a terminally ill patient is not a �legitimate medical purpose� for federally controlled drugs.
DOCTORS WHO use such drugs to help patients die, as permitted under the Oregon law, face suspension or revocation of their licenses to prescribe federally controlled drugs, Ashcroft said in a letter sent to Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday.
The order does not call for criminal prosecution of doctors. And it does stipulate that pain management is a valid medical use of controlled substances.
�Given everything that the country is going through right now, with the country trying to respond to anthrax, why John Ashcroft picked this moment to inject this divisive issue into the public debate is just beyond me,� said Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.
A spokesman for the Oregon attorney general�s office said the state will file motions in U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday seeking to block the order.
But some religious groups and anti-abortion organizations hailed the move by Ashcroft, whose nomination as attorney general nearly was scuttled by critics who said his strong conservative views would color his judgment.
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said President Bush had made it clear he opposed Oregon�s law. �The president believes we must value life and protect the sanctity of life at all stages,� Lisaius said.
At least 70 terminally ill people have ended their lives since the Oregon law took effect in 1997, according to the Oregon Health Division. All have done so with a federally controlled substance such as a barbiturate.
Under the law, doctors may provide � but not administer � a lethal prescription to terminally ill adult state residents. It requires that two doctors agree the patient has less than six months to live, has voluntarily chosen to die and is able to make health care decisions.
Oregon Death With Dignity and other proponents of the law complained the federal government was trampling on a states-rights issue. Oregon voters have twice approved referendums to allow physician-assisted suicides.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Ashcroft�s order �is undoing Oregon�s popular will in the most undemocratic manner possible. ... Americans in every corner of the nation are going to suffer needlessly.�