Attorney General: Controlled Substances
Cannot be Used For Assisted Suicide

November 13, 2001: Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed a 1998 ruling by Clinton Administration Attorney General Janet Reno that authorized the use of federally controlled drugs to assist suicides in Oregon, the only state whose law permits lethal prescriptions in certain cases.

A national Wirthlin Worldwide poll conducted July 6-9 shows 67 % of those polled say federal law should not allow the use of federally controlled narcotics and other dangerous drugs for the purpose of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Only 29% felt federal law should allow such use, a spread of 38 points with two-thirds opposed. 4% said they didn’t know or refused to respond. (3.1% margin of error.)

The Ashcroft decision effectively reinstates the original determination by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). On November 5, 1997, then-DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine had announced that since assisting suicide is not "a legitimate medical purpose ... prescribing a controlled substance with the intent of assisting a suicide" violates the federal Controlled Substances Act. On June 5, 1998, Attorney General Reno agreed that "adverse action under the CSA" might be warranted "where a physician assists in a suicide in a state that has not authorized the practice under any conditions, or where a physician fails to comply with state procedures in doing so." However, she decided to allow federally controlled drugs to be prescribed to kill patients, when legal under state law, as in Oregon.

Burke Balch, Director of the National Right to Life Committee’s Department of Medical Ethics, said, "Americans overwhelmingly agree the federal government should not be facilitating euthanasia and assisting suicide with federally controlled drugs. We commend Attorney General Ashcroft and the Bush Administration for cutting off this outrageous misuse of drugs drugs that should be used to cure and to relieve pain, not to kill. While we know that euthanasia advocates mount a challenge in the courts, we are confident that the Supreme Court will ultimately conclude that the Attorney General has properly interpreted federal law, which clearly rejects assisting suicide and euthanasia."

Source: National Right to Life Committee

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