- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

Oregon officials yesterday filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to prevent the Justice Department from blocking the use of that state's physician-assisted suicide law.
The suit, filed by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers in U.S. District Court in Salem, also challenged the authority of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to order the Drug Enforcement Administration to target the drug-prescription licenses of doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs for terminally ill patients.
Mr. Myers asked the court to issue an immediate order preventing the DEA from taking action against Oregon doctors. The suit said Mr. Ashcroft misinterpreted the federal government's Controlled Substances Act and that it was the right of the state to determine what was legitimate medical practice.
In a memo Tuesday to DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, Mr. Ashcroft ordered the agency to target the drug-prescription licenses of doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs for terminally ill patients under Oregon's landmark law on physician-assisted suicide.
Unless the order is overturned, the Oregon law probably would be negated because doctors are not likely to risk federal sanctions.
The order reversed a 1998 ruling by former Attorney General Janet Reno, who barred the DEA from enforcing federal law on prescribing controlled substances in Oregon.
Mr. Ashcroft said prescribing, dispensing or administering federally controlled substances to assist in a suicide is not a "legitimate medical purpose." Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, passed in 1997, allowed doctors to provide but not administer lethal drugs to the terminally ill.
The order does not allow the criminal prosecution of the doctors and describes pain management as a valid medical use of controlled substances. But it calls for the DEA to investigate doctors who prescribe controlled or lethal drugs to determine whether to suspend or revoke their licenses to prescribe drugs, which is what the agency does in the 49 other states.


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