- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

A federal judge yesterday temporarily blocked an order by Attorney General John Ashcroft that would have nullified Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones in Portland granted a temporary restraining order requested by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, a doctor, a pharmacist and three terminally ill patients. The order is in effect until Nov. 20, during which hearings in the matter will be scheduled.
"There is no showing that the U.S. would be irreparably impaired by a temporary stay of the attorney general's action," Judge Jones said in his ruling.
Mr. Myers filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to prevent the Justice Department from blocking the use of a physician-assisted suicide law known as the Death With Dignity Act passed by the state in 1997. Oregon is the only state that allows physician-assisted suicides.
The suit also challenged Mr. Ashcroft's authority 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. He argued that Mr. Ashcroft had misinterpreted the federal government's Controlled Substances Act and that it was the right of the state to determine what constituted a 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 Ashcroft 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 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. The aim is 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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