News Release: Bishops' Official Criticizes 9th Circuit Approval of Assisted Suicide in Oregon

May 27, 2004

WASHINGTON—A spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized a ruling yesterday by a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down Attorney General John Ashcroft’s directive that doctors in Oregon may not misuse federally controlled drugs to assist suicides.  The Ashcroft directive had reversed a Clinton Administration decision to allow Oregon doctors to ignore federal law and prescribe lethal doses of federally controlled substances.  The decision in the case of Oregon v. Ashcroft will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.  
     “Suicide among the elderly and those suffering from serious illness or disability is not a ‘medical practice’ but a tragic public health problem deserving a thoughtful, caring response,” said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq. "The 9th Circuit has just told these patients that their lives are expendable."
     The Ashcroft directive restores the uniform enforcement of the longstanding federal Controlled Substances Act, and also clarifies that aggressive pain management is legitimate medical care even where it unintentionally increases the likelihood of a patient's death.  
     “This is not about an attempt by the Attorney General to control Oregon law," Ruse said.  "Rather, it's about whether Oregon should be able to ignore federal law and at the same time co-opt the federal government into facilitating assisted suicides by providing federal prescribing licenses and federally controlled drugs."