WASHINGTON (April6, 2000) -- In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore reaffirmed the Catholic Bishops' strong support for the Pain Relief Promotion Act.
The committee is expected to vote on the legislation (H.R. 2260, S. 1272) today.
The Act is designed to promote pain management and palliative care, including the appropriate use of federally regulated drugs to control pain, without authorizing use of such drugs for assisted suicide and euthanasia, the Cardinal noted. "It is tragic that such clarification of federal law is needed at all; it is now long overdue," he said.
Cardinal Keeler is Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Federal policy on assisted suicide was clearly established in 1997 when Congress overwhelmingly approved the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act. That Act passed the Senate 99-0. It ensured that, regardless of any action a state may take, assisted suicide would not be permitted or seen as part of medical practice in federally funded programs or federal health facilities.
However, Cardinal Keeler observed, the program by which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registers health professionals to prescribe and dispense federally regulated drugs for "legitimate medical purposes" was not addressed by the 1997 law. Subsequently, in June 1998, Attorney General Janet Reno ruled that Oregon must be allowed unilaterally to redefine "legitimate medical purposes" and other key terms in the federal act.
"Because of Congress's long delay in addressing this problem, at least forty-three Oregon patients have now been assisted in suicide by federal authorization--their lethal barbiturate overdoses, in every case, prescribed using a federal DEA license," Cardinal Keeler said.
"This gross abuse of federal authority must end, so that once again no federal program will be used to support the killing of vulnerable patients," the Cardinal stated. "At the same time the federal government should more fully support and promote the legitimate use of controlled substances to alleviate the pain and discomfort that can often attend the dying process."
"The Pain Relief Promotion Act will serve both goals," Cardinal Keeler said.
Full text of Cardinal Keeler's letter to the Judiciary Committee.