November 5, 1999
With its recent overwhelming approval by the House of Representatives, the Pain Relief Promotion Act (H.R. 2260/S. 1272) awaits action by the Senate. I urge you to support this bill and help ensure its enactment this year.
This legislation is the fruit of over a year's deliberation among members of Congress, pro-life groups and medical experts. 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. It is a matter of grave concern that Congress has not done more to promote the use of these drugs for pain control, so patients will not think suicide is their only escape from the intractable pain of a terminal illness. For both reasons, the Pain Relief Promotion Act should be approved quickly.
You may recall that an earlier bill, the Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act, did not reach the House floor last year, largely because of strong opposition from many medical groups. But many groups who saw that legislation as a threat to good palliative care have endorsed the Pain Relief Promotion Act as a boon to doctors in pain management and their patients. The American Medical Association, the National Hospice Organization, the American Academy of Pain Management and others have joined us 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. Such killing is a felony and a violation of medical licensing standards in almost all states -- and thus violates the standards for federal DEA licenses as well. The Pain Relief Promotion Act simply ensures that such standards are applied uniformly. What is new in this bill is its positive affirmation of aggressive pain relief, even in those rare instances when 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, and the federal Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, with very positive effects on palliative care. This bill'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.
In short, we believe the Pain Relief Promotion Act is urgently needed, and should receive strong bipartisan support when it is considered by the Senate. I hope the enclosed material will assist you in learning more about this important legislation.
Cardinal William H. Keeler
Archbishop of Baltimore
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
National Conference of Catholic Bishops