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Judge Blocks Federal Suicide Order

November 09, 2001|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a federal order aimed at thwarting Oregon's assisted suicide law.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones granted the temporary restraining order requested by Oregon Atty. Gen. Hardy Myers, three terminally ill patients and others. The order is in effect until Nov. 20.

"There is no showing that the U.S. would be irreparably impaired by a temporary stay of the [U.S.] attorney general's action," Jones said.

Oregon has the nation's only law allowing physician-assisted suicides. It has been used by at least 70 terminally ill people since 1997, all of whom used a federally controlled substance, such as a barbiturate.

On Tuesday, U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said Oregon doctors could lose their licenses to prescribe federally controlled drugs if they follow the law.

The order did not call for criminal prosecution, but it effectively put the state's law on hold because a doctor would have to be willing to give up the right to prescribe federally controlled medicines.

The order reversed a June 1998 order by Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, who prohibited federal drug agents from moving against doctors who use Oregon's law.

The state responded with a federal lawsuit, saying Ashcroft had taken away Oregon's right to govern the practice of medicine.

Oregon's assisted suicide law was narrowly approved by voters in 1994. It survived legal challenges and was later approved again by a wide margin in 1997 before it was officially signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber two years ago.

Under the law, doctors may provide--but not administer--a lethal prescription to terminally ill adult state residents.

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