WASHINGTON (October 18, 1999) -- Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore urged the full House of Representatives to support the Pain Relief Promotion Act and help ensure its enactment this year.
Cardinal Keeler said the legislation (H.R. 2260), the fruit of over a year's deliberation among members of Congress, pro-life groups, and medical experts, recently received overwhelming approval by both the House Judiciary and Commerce committees.
"It should be a cause of profound shame that current federal policy allows physicians in Oregon to use federally controlled drugs and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) prescription forms to write lethal prescriptions for patients' suicides," the Cardinal said.
"It is a matter of grave concern that Congress has not done more to promote the use of these drugs for pain control, so that patients will not think that suicide is their only escape from the intractable pain of a terminal illness," he continued. "For both reasons, the Pain Relief Promotion Act should be approved quickly."
Cardinal Keeler is Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). He wrote to members of Congress on October 18.
The Cardinal noted that many medical groups who opposed an earlier bill--the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act--have endorsed H.R. 2260 as a boon to doctors in pain management and to their patients. He said the American Medical Association, the National Hospice Organization, the American Academy of Pain Management and others have joined in urging swift enactment of this legislation.
In reaffirming that the Controlled Substances Act does not authorize intentionally using federally regulated drugs for the purpose of causing patients' deaths, this bill does nothing new, Cardinal Keeler said. "What is new in this bill is its positive affirmation of aggressive pain relief, even in those rare instances where it may risk unintentionally hastening a patient's death."
"Similar language distinguishing assisted suicide from pain control has been enacted as part of many state laws, as well as the federal Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, with very positive effects on palliative care," Cardinal Keeler said. "H.R. 2260's provisions for educating both health professionals and law enforcement personnel in the legitimate use of controlled substances for pain relief will also help alleviate much needless suffering among seriously ill patients," he wrote.
The Pain Relief Promotion Act would promote the use of federally regulated drugs for pain management. It would also reverse a June, 1998 ruling by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno which authorizes use of these drugs for assisted suicide if permitted by state law.