- to amend the Controlled Substances Act to encourage physicians to use federally regulated drugs (controlled substances) such as morphine to relieve pain and discomfort;
- to reaffirm that intentionally prescribing such drugs to cause patients' deaths is not authorized, and that a State law permitting assisted suicide or euthanasia does not change this federal policy;
- to help educate and train health professionals on medically accepted means for alleviating pain and other symptoms for seriously ill patients, including the legitimate use of controlled substances, and to help educate law enforcement personnel to better accommodate such use.
Why is this bill needed? Pain management for seriously ill patients is underdeveloped and needs government support. Also, Congress must correct a June 1998 ruling by Attorney General Janet Reno that federally controlled drugs can be used to assist suicides wherever a state allows this.
Does the Act overturn Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide? No, it tells Oregon physicians they cannot use drugs under federal control (e.g., barbiturates) for such suicides.
Does the Act expand federal authority over medical practice? No. It limits such authority, by creating an explicit "safe harbor" for doctors using controlled substances for pain control.
Does it require new scrutiny of physicians' "intent" in prescribing drugs? No. Intentionally assisting suicide violates professional ethics nationwide and the laws of most states. The bill's only new effect in 49 states is to protect pain control, even where it unintentionally risks death.
Could this law have a "chilling effect" on use of these drugs for pain control? No. When Iowa, Rhode Island and other states enacted laws to ban assisted suicide, while allowing pain control that may unintentionally hasten death, they saw dramatic increases in use of pain killing drugs like morphine. Demanding respect for patients' lives promotes care for their real needs.
Who supports the bill? American Medical Association, Catholic Health Association, American Society of Anesthesiologists, American Academy of Pain Management, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, National Right to Life Committee, Not Dead Yet...a wide array of pro-life, disability rights and medical organizations.
STATUS: Passed by House of Representatives in October 1999, 271-to-156. Now pending in Senate, with 41 sponsors (5 Democrats), led by Don Nickles (R-OK) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT).