Washington A Kansas senator wants to block Oregon's landmark law allowing doctor-assisted suicide.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., has introduced legislation that would bar doctors from prescribing federally controlled drugs for use in assisted suicide.
Brownback's bill, dubbed the Assisted Suicide Prevention Act, marks the first legislative assault on assisted suicide since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oregon's law in January.
"When the law permits killing as a medical 'treatment,' society's moral guidelines are blurred, and killing could gain acceptance as a solution for the chronically ill or vulnerable," said Brownback, a favorite of religious conservatives who is considering a run for president.
Brownback said in an interview that he did not expect the bill to become law this year but said it was important to bring up the bill as a "discussion point and hopefully as a rallying point for those opposed to assisted suicide."
Brownback said his bill would specifically address the Supreme Court ruling, which said the Bush administration overstepped its authority when it sought to overturn the Oregon law.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., immediately opposed the bill, saying through a spokeswoman that he would do everything in his power to block the legislation, including a filibuster.
Wyden had vowed after the Supreme Court ruling that he would object to any measure that might affect end-of-life care generally and Oregon's law in particular.
More about assisted suicide
- On the street: Should doctors be able to prescribe federally controlled drugs for use in assisted suicide?
- Congressional Briefing: Brownback bill would crack down on assisted suicide (08-07-06)
- Attorney: Kevorkian's health failing in prison (05-21-06)
- Court backs assisted suicide (01-18-06)
- Hospital to allow assisted suicides (12-19-05)
Wyden's spokeswoman, Melissa Merz, called Brownback's bill the latest in a series of proposals by Senate Republicans to appeal to their conservative base, citing a proposed constitutional amendment on flag burning and a bill to ban gay marriage, among others.
"As we've seen in recent months, the Senate leadership has brought up these types of divisive social issues instead of addressing the serious issues that affect the country," Merz said Tuesday. "We expect more of that when we come back in session in September."
Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But his office said Smith stands by a statement he made in January that the Supreme Court decision should be the final word on the much-disputed law, which was twice approved by Oregon voters.
Smith, a Mormon who opposes assisted suicide, called the issue settled law and added: "I accept the Supreme Court's decision, and Congress should do the same."
Kathryn Tucker, legal director for Compassion & Choices, a Portland group that supports assisted suicide, said Brownback's bill would make doctors fearful of being second-guessed by federal regulators when treating pain.
"We already know physicians undertreat pain. It's a serious problem, and we should not exacerbate that by giving physicians reason to be afraid to give dying patients comfort from pain," she said.
Brownback disputed that, saying that because his bill targets use of a federally controlled substance for the stated or undisputed purpose of assisted suicide, it does not hinder doctors from offering pain relief to patients, even if such treatments could hasten death.
Tucker and other advocates said they were confident they could defeat Brownback's effort, noting that the public expressed widespread disdain after Congress intervened in the Terri Schiavo case in 2005.
"The takeaway message from that debacle is that citizens across the country do not want politicians stepping in between the patient and the doctor at the bedside," Tucker said.
Wyden's spokeswoman, Merz, said Wyden will place a public "hold" on Brownback's bill when Congress returns after Labor Day. The action means Wyden is prepared to filibuster the legislation to prevent its passage. Supporters of the bill would need 60 votes to shut down a filibuster.