Following more than a month of delays, the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved legislation that would effectively block Oregon's assisted suicide law.
The "Pain Relief Promotion Act" was passed by a committe vote of 10-8. The vote may prove to have been meaningless. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has threatened to launch a filibuster to block the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.
The bill is designed to counteract a ruling by Attorney General Janet Reno that Oregon physicians who prescribe drugs on the federal government's list of controlled substances to aid a suicide would not be in violation of federal law if they abided by that state's "Death with Dignity Act."
The debate over the bill focuses on concern that physicians would be unable to prescribe adequate narcotic pain relief to patients with severe pain. If practitioners face the possibility of investigation by the DEA to determine the purpose of their prescriptions--to relieve pain or to assist death--adequate pain relief may become less likely.
One of the more notable opponents to the Senate measure is Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Feinstein told the committee of holding her cancer-ridden husband on his deathbed while he begged for pain medication. Said Feinstein "...any dosage puts a physician in danger of investigation by the DEA."
The American Medical Association endorsed the bill after changes were made to make it more difficult for the DEA to revoke physicians' ability to prescribe controlled substances. But many state medical associations, as well as the American Academy of Family Physicians oppose it. According to the AAFP, "Scrutiny of physicians, performed within the construct of DEA by DEA agents, may well create a chilling environment for the physician whose goal is appropriate medical treatment of a patient's pain."
The vote has been delayed twice in the past month by Sen. Wyden, who has vowed to try to block its enactment in the Senate. Feinstein and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said they too planned to filibuster.
For more information on the Oregon "Death With Dignity Act" try these links: