FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17, 2002
TDD (202) 514-1888
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL MCCALLUM'S STATEMENT REGARDING
THE DISTRICT COURT RULING ON ASSISTED SUICIDE IN OREGON
WASHINGTON, DC - Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Robert McCallum issued the following statement regarding the U.S. District Court's ruling on assisted suicide in Portland, Oregon today:
"Medicine is the art of preserving health, treating disease, or relieving pain – assisting suicide is not medicine. Physicians pledge a sacred oath to preserve health, heal disease, relieve pain, and not to terminate lives with deadly drugs.
"For this reason, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association say assisted suicide is ‘fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer' and prohibiting assisted suicide is ‘a cornerstone of medical ethics.' The United States Supreme Court calls bans on assisted suicide ‘longstanding expressions of the States' commitment to the protection and preservation of human life.' And that is why almost every state and almost every western democracy have banned assisted suicide for centuries
"It is clear from the Attorney General's November 6, 2001 memo that physicians may use federally controlled substances to manage pain. Pain management, in contrast to assisted suicide, has long been recognized as a legitimate medical purpose justifying physicians' dispensing of controlled substances. There are important medical, ethical, and legal distinctions between intentionally causing a patient's death and providing sufficient dosages of pain medications to eliminate or alleviate pain.
"Terminally ill patients are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Medical studies make clear that these individuals often suffer from undiagnosed depression and inadequately treated pain.
"A just and caring society should do its best to assist in coping with the problems that afflict the terminally ill. It should not abandon or assist in killing them. Doctors should not use controlled substances to assist suicide. Instead, they should be encouraged to use them for pain control, which is one of the most important positive alternatives to suicide.
"The Department is reviewing the court's decision and assessing the appropriate steps to take. However, the Department remains convinced that its interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act as prohibiting the use of federally controlled drugs to assist suicide is correct."