WASHINGTON (June 24, 1999) -- The Catholic Bishops of the United States strongly support the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution by an official of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB).
The official, Richard M. Doerflinger, said swift enactment of the legislation (H.R. 2260) is needed to correct a seriously flawed 1998 ruling by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, which authorizes the use of federally regulated drugs to assist vulnerable patients' suicides wherever the practice is permitted by state law.
It is also needed, according to the NCCB official, "to promote the legitimate use of these drugs to relieve pain and other distressing symptoms, especially for patients who are terminally ill."
Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director for Policy Development at the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. He is Adjunct Fellow in Bioethics and Public Policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston.
The testimony was presented June 24 to the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.
Mr. Doerflinger said the two goals--correcting the flawed ruling by the Attorney General and promoting the legitimate use of these drugs to relieve pain--are closely related.
"Terminally ill patients deserve better pain control precisely because they have the same innate worth and dignity as all other human beings and are in special need of our love and support," Mr. Doerflinger said. "When a society singles out these patients as candidates for physician-assisted suicide, it denies the value of their very lives, and thereby undermines respect for their dignity and their legitimate needs--including their need for the best possible palliative care."
"When we accept assisted suicide as a 'good enough' solution for these patients, we preach a counsel of despair to all terminally ill patients," the NCCB official continued. "We tell them that we find it easier to kill them than to find ways to kill their pain. By rejecting the 'quick fix' of assisted suicide, however, we reaffirm to ourselves and to the medical profession that these patients have lives worth living, and that they deserve real solutions for the pain, depression and isolation that they may experience."
The purposes of the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999 are to encourage practioners to dispense controlled substances as medically appropriate to relieve pain and other distressing symptoms, to provide that a State law permitting assisted suicide or euthanasia has no force or effect in determining whether federal substances under the Controlled Substances Act have been violated, and to provide education and training to law enforcement officials and health professionals on medically accepted means for alleviating pain and other distressing symptoms for patients with advanced chronic disease or terminal illness.
Cardinal William H. Keeler, Chairman of the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities, announced last week that the Bishops support the legislation, which was introduced in Congress June 17.
NOTE: The full text of Mr. Doerflinger's testimony is available on the Web site: http://www.nccbuscc.org/prolife/issues/euthanas/painrelief.htm.