PORTLAND, April 17, 2002 ( – U.S. District Judge Robert Jones ruled today that the US Justice Department may not use its authority over the federal Controlled Substances Act to quash Oregon’s practice of legal physician-assisted suicide. Judge Jones slammed Attorney General John Ashcroft accusing him of attempting to “stifle an ongoing, earnest and profound debate in the various states concerning physician-assisted suicide.”“The citizens of Oregon, through their democratic initiative process, have chosen to resolve the moral, legal and ethical debate on physician-assisted suicide for themselves by voting – not once, but twice – in favor of the Oregon act,” Jones wrote in his decision.

Under Ashcroft’s November 6 directive, Oregon doctors who prescribe federally controlled drugs for assisted suicide and Oregon pharmacists who dispense the drugs for assisted suicide could have their DEA licenses to prescribe or dispense federally controlled substances revoked. Loss of a DEA license would make it difficult for most physicians to continue to practice medicine because they would no longer be able to prescribe virtually any kind of pain-killing medication.

Over ninety people have been killed via legal assisted suicide in the state. Physicians for Compassionate Care (PCC), a group supporting the Justice Department’s effort, said the decision would likely be appealed.

Dr. Gregory Hamilton, spokesperson for PCC, noted that Ashcroft’s measure clarifies that while the use of controlled drugs to engineer death is illicit, aggressive pain management is legitimate medical care even if in rare instances it may increase the likelihood of a patient’s death. The most recent Oregon Health Division report demonstrates that there was not one case of assisted suicide in 2001 where uncontrollable pain was documented as the primary motive. Dr. Hamilton noted, “The reasons for overdoses were all psychological and social concerns, not pain.”

See the Reuters coverage and release from PCC: