Source:   International HeraldTribune
Contact:    Thu, 20 Nov 1997


By Timothy Egan
New York Times Service

Portland, Oregon  The singlepage form, titled "Request for medication to
end my life in a humane and dignified manner," is circulating now in the
only state to legalize assisted suicide.

But whether doctors in Oregon will actually do what the law allows them to
is suddenly clouded by a threat from Washington, D.C.

Acting on a request by two Republican members of Congress who oppose the
Oregon law, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has warned that
doctors here who prescribe drugs to help terminally ill patients kill
themselves could face severe sanctions.

Any doctor who writes a prescription for suicide would be violating the
Controlled Substances Act because it is not a legitimate medical purpose
for the drugs, wrote Thomas Constantine, the administrator of the agency.

The policy statement, written just after Oregon voters overwhelmingly
affirmed their firstinthenation law on assisted suicide, may not
necessarily have the support of the Justice Department which is now
reviewing the law.

But the warning has had such a chilling effect that the leading medical
group in Oregon is now advising doctors not to write what is a legal
prescription in this state.

"The only official word we have is that physicians who prescribe
barbiturates for assisted suicide could face sanctions," said Dr. Charles
Hofmann, president of the Oregon Medical Association.

"Our recommendation would be to not become involved until this is settled.
So the chilling effect is just that." The group represents 5,700 doctors in

Dr. Hofmann and leading political and medical officials on both sides of
the issue expressed exasperation and anger at the threat of federal
intervention. It came about after Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah,
and Representative Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois, wrote the drug
agency, citing reasons that it should oppose the Oregon law.

In a reversal of the usual political postures, some conservatives are
arguing for federal meddling and liberals are embracing states' rights.
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, opposes assisted suicide but said he
was infuriated over the maneuver that has effectively stalled a vote of the
people in his state.

"The drug enforcement agency indicates they want to declare war on
physicians in Oregon and those they serve by threatening to revoke the
drugdispensing privileges of any physician who abides by the law that
Oregon has now passed on two occasions," he said.

Mr. Wyden and Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon, a Democrat who is also a
doctor, are trying to convince Attorney General Janet Reno that any
sanctions against doctors who prescribe for assisted suicide would be a
misreading of the law on controlled substances.