Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) on Assisted Suicide and the Pain Relief Promotion Act

Mr. Chairman, I want to say a few words about the Pain Relief Promotion Act, a bill which I am proud to support.

This bill does two important things: it makes clear that prescribing pain medication -- even when it may increase the risk of death -- is a "legitimate medical purpose" under the Controlled Substances Act and it makes clear that prescribing medication for the purpose of assisting suicide is not.

Now, truth in advertising here I am opposed to legalizing physician-assisted suicide in this country, period.

In contrast to abortion where some may argue about whether or not there is a life at stake in assisted suicide there is no question that there is a human life in being. Physician-assisted suicide is the most dangerous slippery slope, in my view, that the nation can embark upon.

But this bill does more than just rule out the use of controlled substances to kill a patient. Just as important, it also urges doctors to educate themselves about pain management and palliative care and it makes clear that prescribing adequate pain medication is a legitimate use of controlled substances.

Currently, too many doctors are afraid to give a patient a high dose of pain killers for fear that their actions will appear suspicious or for fear that the remedy may have the "double effect" of hastening death. It is critical that doctors feel free to adequately manage pain so that patients do not suffer needlessly.

Now, let me dispel a couple of myths and tell you what this bill will not do. It will not have a "chilling effect" on pain management. Critics have alleged that if this legislation passes, the Drug Enforcement Administration will begin to investigate doctors more vigorously. That is certainly not the intent of this bill.

And furthermore the DEA has stated that they have no intention of investigating doctors unless the doctor has admitted to using controlled substances to kill a patient or if state authorities have concluded that was the case. The DEA has written:

Even if H.R. 2260 were enacted, it is not feasible that DEA would devote its limited resources to investigate an allegation that a practitioner assisted a suicide unless either: (i) the practitioner made a clear admission that s/he dispensed controlled substances with the specific intent to assist suicide or (ii) competent state and local authorities concluded based on sufficient evidence provided to DEA that the practitioner dispensed controlled substances with the specific intent to assist suicide.

If you need proof, just look at states which have passed measures similar to the one we are debating today. There has been no "chilling effect." Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Virginia have enacted laws making clear that providing pain medication even to the point where death is hastened is legitimate medical practice. And in each of those states, per capita use of morphine has increased as doctors feel more comfortable giving their patients the medication they need. I fully expect that passing the bill before us today will increase proper pain management nationwide.

This bill has the support of the medical community the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pain Management, National Hospice Organization, American Pain Society, American Academy of Pain Management, and the Catholic Medical Association. These groups would not lend their names to a piece of legislation which is not in the best interest of patients. I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting this bill today.


The above is a statement in Senate Committee on the Judiciary on April 27, 2000.

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