Assisted-Suicide Law in Oregon Stirs National Discontent

Article excerpt

Oregon's controversial new assisted-suicide law has quickly become the focus of a nationwide legal battle.

The day before the "Death with Dignity Act" was to have gone into effect last week, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing physicians from prescribing fatal drug doses for patients diagnosed as terminally ill.

Opponents, including some doctors, patients, nursing home operators, and right-to-life advocates, argue that the measure violates due-process and equal-rights provisions of the United States Constitution as well as federal legislation designed to protect religious freedom and the rights of the disabled.

Partisans from around the country are weighing in.

Arguing for the restraining order was James Bopp of Terre Haute, Ind., chief attorney for National Right to Life and president of the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent and Disabled.

"We're doing this so that people will not kill themselves," he said.

A major concern is that those legally able to obtain life-ending drugs will be "vulnerable to undue influence to prematurely end their lives," as another attorney put it, despite what advocates say are strict safeguards against such influence.

"The terminally ill are disproportionate consumers of expensive medical services," said Thomas Alderman, who represents some of those opposing the law. "{The measure} creates a powerful incentive for those liable to pay for the terminally ill to find ways to avoid those costs."

The Roman Catholic Church, which led the fight to defeat the Oregon ballot measure, has continued its outspoken opposition. At their annual meeting last month, US Catholic bishops denounced the Oregon law as "an ominous step toward cheapening human life in our society." The official Vatican newspaper likened it to euthanasia -- "an abominable crime that can never be justified. …