Court Cases Moving Assisted Suicide to Front Burner

By Conlan, Michael F | Drug Topics, April 22, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Court Cases Moving Assisted Suicide to Front Burner


Conlan, Michael F, Drug Topics


With the legality of physicianassisted suicide heading to the Supreme Court, the role of pharmacists in dispensing lethal doses of prescription drugs intended to end a patient's life is coming into sharper focus. Twice in less than a month, federal appeals courts on opposite coasts have struck down state laws that make it a crime for doctors to help terminally ill patients kill themselves.

Both panels determined that there was no ethical or Constitutional distinction between withdrawing artificial life support systems and prescribing drugs with the purpose of ending life. But the decisions used different Constitutional interpretations to arrive at that conclusion. The 3-0 decision in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning New York's law will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco said. If the high court takes the case-or one from the 9th Circuit involving a Washington law-and upholds the lower court rulings, pharmacists most likely to be affected soonest are those in Oregon. There, a never-implemented physicianassisted suicide law is already on the books.

It got there through a ballot initiative, approved 51%-49%, in November 1994. Its legality was immediately challenged, and it is pending before the same 9th Circuit, which covers Oregon, Washington, and seven other western states. For more than a year, Oregon pharmacists have been wrestling with the issue, Chuck Gress, executive director of the Oregon State Pharmacists Association, told Drug Topics.

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