WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Sam Brownback yesterday introduced the Assisted Suicide Prevention Act, which would prohibit doctors from prescribing federally-controlled substances for the purpose of physician-assisted suicide.
“When the law permits killing as a medical ‘treatment,’ society’s moral guidelines are blurred, and killing could gain acceptance as a solution for the chronically ill or vulnerable,” said Brownback. “Doctor-assisted suicide could actually create a financial incentive for insurance companies to encourage prematurely ending the lives of those in need of long-term care.”
Last May Brownback chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the impact of physician-assisted suicide in places where it has been widely practiced. Several experts testified that in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal, doctors have started experimenting with euthanasia and infanticide. A September 2005 article in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet reported that half of the newborn babies who died in Flanders, Belgium between August 1999 and July 2000 were “helped” in that regard by their doctors.
Brownback continued, “The American Medical Association and disability rights groups are strongly opposed to physician-assisted suicide because it is antithetical to the doctor’s role as a healer and it jeopardizes the ability of the infirm and helpless to defend themselves. I doubt Americans want the government to decide when life is worth preserving and when life can be destroyed.”
In Vacco v. Quill and Washington v. Glucksberg the Supreme Court unanimously upheld state prohibitions against assisted suicide, ruling that it is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Constitution. In an amicus brief filed in the Washington case, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Psychiatric Association stated the following:
“Once established, the right to physician-assisted suicide would create profound danger for many ill persons with undiagnosed depression and inadequately treated pain, for whom physician-assisted suicide rather than good palliative care could become the norm. At greatest risk would be those with the least access to palliative care—the poor, the elderly, and members of minority groups.”
By only penalizing doctors for using a federally-controlled substance for the stated or undisputed purpose of assisted suicide, and by placing the burden of proof on the Attorney General, the bill does not constrain doctors from offering palliative care that brings pain relief to patients, even if such treatments could hasten death.
Brownback chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights.