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Bill to Ban Use of Narcotics for Physician-Assisted Suicide Moving in Congress, Would Reverse Reno Opinion


July-August 1998

A bill (S. 2151) introduced by Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) to penalize doctors who prescribe narcotics for physician-assisted suicide is pending in Congress (Dave Hogan, "Sen. Hatch Seeks Help in Blocking Suicide Law," Oregonian, August 1, 1998; AP, "Senators Debate Bill to Bar Use of Drugs to Aid Suicide," August 1, 1998).

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 31, Clinton Administration officials said they do not support the measure. In 1997, President Clinton signed a measure into law which barred the use of federal funds for assisted suicide (P.L. 105-12). Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) told the committee that S. 2151 would only intimidate doctors and discourage them from providing seriously ill patients with the high doses of pain medication they often require.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced in June that the federal government cannot penalize doctors who prescribe deadly amounts of drugs upon the patient's request as protected by Oregon's recently passed Death With Dignity Act (U.S. Department of Justice, "Statement of Attorney General Geno on Oregon's Death With Dignity Act," Press Release, June 5, 1998, <>). Shortly thereafter, Nickles' legislation was introduced. At the hearing, DEA head Thomas Constantine said it is his opinion that the Controlled Substances Act empowers the DEA to punish doctors who prescribe drugs for patient suicide, but that the DEA has complied with the Reno decision.

U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) has introduced a bill (H.R. 4006) similar to Nickles' in the House, which passed the House Judiciary Committee on August 4 (John Hughes, "GOP sends bill limiting drugs for assisted suicide," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), August 5, 1998, p. 38A).

The Compassion In Dying Federation, the Death With Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center, and the Death With Dignity National Center funded a poll which showed that 69% of Americans believe that people with terminal illnesses should be able to receive help from their physician in ending their lives. 72% said that the federal government should not pass a law outlawing physician-assisted suicide (William Claiborne, "Doctor-Aided Suicide Is Backed in Poll," Washington Post, July 30, 1998, p. A3).

U.S. Senator Don Nickles, 133 Hart Building, Washington D.C. 20510, Tel: (202) 224-5754

U.S. Representative Henry Hyde, 2110 RHOB, Washington D.C. 20515, Tel: (202) 225-4561

Death With Dignity National Center - 520 S. El Camino Real, Suite 710, San Mateo, CA 94402-1720, Tel: (650) 344-6489, Fax: (650) 344-8100.

Death With Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center - 625 Southwest 10th Ave., Suite 284C, Portland, OR 97205, Tel: (503) 228-6079, Fax: (503) 228-7454.

Compassion In Dying Federation - 6312 Southwest Capitol Highway, Portland, OR 97201, Tel: (503) 221-9556, Fax: (503) 228-9160.