Death with Dignity and Federal Government

Oregon has a death with dignity law (doctor assisit suicide) that John Ashcroft takes serious issue with because (he says) it violates the Controlled Substances Act. DWD is the only law of it’s kind in the nation and has been approved twice by voters in Oregon.
John Ashcroft issued a directive aimed at overturning the law. The directive would authorize federal narcotics officials to suspend or revoke the licenses of doctors who prescribed drugs that patients could use for suicide.
I feel safe in saying that the directive is not really about the CSA but more about the ethical issues surrounding the law.

George Bush ran on a platform the emphisized state’s right and smaller federal government. However, in this case, the federal government stepped in and directly interfered with state law. Was this action justified due to the nature of the Death with Dignity law? If so, what else should the federal government get involved in at a state level?

I think that the Federal Government has no business whatsoever that area of life (or death depending on your viewpoint.) If someone wants to die isn’t it their God given right to do just that? Sure I’m against things such as suicides out of temporary depression or momentary lapses in judgement, but someone confined to a hospital slowly dying a painful death? Please let them go with some level of control and dignity.

This country is a bit too uptight with death. The religious right wants condemn Death with Dignity because suicide goes against the tenants of the bible. But this country allows for diversity of religious preference and freedom of choice. I just don’t get it. Same goes for execution. While I’m pro death penalty, I see a smack of hypocracy that the party platform is Pro Death Penalty and Anti Assisted Suicide. Abortion is another issue altogether. While I’m Pro Choice, I can understand the arguments Pro Lifers make, but don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical to be Pro Life, Pro Death Penalty, and Anti Suicide? I’m not talking about warped teenagers who are battling with depression, I’m talking about sick people in hospitals who are dying anyway with no hope of recovery.

BTW, FTR, I’d align myself toward the right side of moderate and I still have these feelings.

Well, I’m a rightist and I think that the death with dignity act in Oregon is ok. The main arguements against the act aren’t really based on religious tenents. The problem is the safe-guards.

How can we make sure that a Dr. isn’t pushing the patient into suicide? How do we protect the patient from HMOs who may potentialy see suicide as cheaper for them than a costly surgery that has limited benefit to the patient? People shoot horses when they are hurt/chronically ill, can we be sure that this won’t begin to happen (legally) to people?

Anyway, I think we can and that the Oregon act is ok. Those are the arguments as I understand them.

–==the sax man==–

I think you have an excellent point here, especially about the HMOs. They have a very definite bottom line and seem to be willing to do anything to keep it.
I think that is the crux. Should we assume people will take responsibilty for their own actions? Dangerous asusmption.
On the other hand, I think every individual should have the right to judge how they want to die. It is the most intimate choice imaginable. Does the Federal Government have any right to take this away?
John Ashcroft seems to think so.

I don’t know. It is a tricky issue. I think the bottom line may be to let the law stand. I would rather see this in effect, than, say, capital punishment where untold numbers have been wrongfully put to death without any recourse outside a phone call at midnight (I know, I know…that is painfully oversimplified)

Well, the actual issue here is not that Ashcroft wants to make some new law against it, but that the law contradicts an already standing law.

I know that suicide is illegal in my state, but I don’t know if it is a Federal statute or not.

Minty? Any input on the legality here?

I hope this question is not off-topic, but I’d like to know where the word “dignity” fits into this discussion.

Let me clarify: If someone is in extreme pain and sees death as a way to escape that pain, I view that as an act of surrender to that pain.

I’m not saying whether or not a person has the right to take his life (I happen to believe that we do not have that right) but rather, I want to focus on this word “dignity”.

In what way is this capitulation dignified ?

If you’re going to die it doesn’t matter when you “surrender” you’re still going to be dead. I didn’t want to get into semantics, but since it seems important to you I’ll clarify. When I referred to dying in a dignified way I meant dying without pain and suffering to both you and your family. Sparing their feelings as well as your pain. To go out of the world the way you want to and when you want to. Sure you surrender to your illness- but you’re going to do that anyway so that becomes irrelevant.

What right does the state have to say that I should endure more pain and suffering than is necessary? That’s the real question.

Federal judge rules in favor of Oregon assisted suicide law

“Dignaty” and how it applies. To be racked w/pain, knowing that it will only end w/your death, while being forbidden by some one else’s ethics from hastening that death - that’s undignified. to treat an adult making a choice as if they can’t be trusted w/such a decision, and that their ethics should be held subservient to some one else’s - that’s undignified.

Allowing some one to choose how much pain they will endure is a kindness.

Some one dying slowing by inches, centimeters, hooked up to monitors, machines to breath for them, pump oxygen in their lungs, feed them, handle their bodily wastes for them, if they wish to live as long as possible even under those conditions, they always have that choice. Denying the choice to do otherwise is inhumane.

(please ignore the mispelling of the word dignity in the above post)

Wow, you stated it much better than I did!


That is exactly it. The only problem I see is the other people who might want to capitalize on their pain and fear (HMOs were brought up before)
I do fear that this law could be used to “eliminate costs”, so to speak. It makes me ill to think so, but I know it is possible for some people to take that view.

I agree 100% that it should be an individuals choice determine when to die. However, what about people with Alzheimer’s disease (for example) My grandfather has this, and is on life support to due pneumonia. He has stated that he DOES NOT want his life to be this way, but due to the Alzheimer’s he request to die goes unanswered. How do we respect his decision (legally)?
My granddad doesn’t know me, my mom or his wife. He is miserable and in constant pian and total confusion. I WANT my grandfather to die, but that isn’t an option.

IF the choice to accept death can only be made by the patient (or in case of permanent incapacitation, the patient’s designee), the HMO wouldn’t have the means to require it.

as for your grandpa, my sincere sympathies. My siblings and I have had the conversation several times (dad isn’t presently incapacitated), and at least we agree that dad has expressed over and over that he’d rather go out blazing than be hooked up. He nearly had a fit w/the last hospitalization when they screwed up a procedure and wanted to do it again. He refused to allow them to do so.

I’ve made out the proper forms w/my family doctor to allow my designee to make the decision should I become incapcitated (Snookie, son’s still a minor, tho’ I’ve told them to talk to each other about it). Snookie, of course, responded “where’s your plug?”

I feel that with careful attention to the guidelines, a law can be crafted to allow people the right to choose how long they wish to be in pain.

The bigger objection (IMHO) comes from the general group of folks w/disabilities and their advocates who fear that with such legislation, many/some/any people with profound disabilities may be encouraged/urged/made to feel guilty by family members.

I was going to respond to LiquidLobotomy by saying that I see great value and dignity in fighting the pain, fighting the illness, etc.

But the way Wring phrased it is a very good explanation of those who feel that suicide can be dignified. The indignity, as Wring explains it, does not come from the pain or the illness, but from the society which denies the patient the choice.

The medications provided in Oregon do not effect each patient the same. I believe the worst case I heard was 6 weeks until death… many times they’ll vomit, rise out of their coma’s… and in general is a painful and laborious death. Clearly not keeping with any sense of dignity. Everyone knows how to execute painless death… you just use a 20-ton crusher and drop it on someones head…

Screw technology… just do it medieval, low-tech, uses gears and such that will last as long as the pyramids and just decimate the people. After the innitial cost; the cost will be zero…
Hell, a junkyard scrappy could build it in a day … pay them $100 bucks for the work shrug

I can’t fathom why there aren’t public suicide machines in at least one city…
People should be able to sell the service IMO… pay $100.00 or maybe even $1000.00 or maybe even your entire assets to the crunchers for access to their machine. Pull the lever; they do the disposal. Seems perfectly logical to me. shrug


It would be great if you would give a cite for the 6 week case. Or was it just a friend of someone whose cousin told a guy about it?

I think what you are saying might be possible, but are there any data about it anywhere? The reason I don’t dismiss the story completely is because of the book Cup Of Fury by Upton Sinclair. In it he describes the suicide of writer Jack London. London did extensive research on how much morphine administered by what method and over what period of time would cause a relatively quick death. Lots of London’s notes and writings about the research were found after London finally did the deed. And I’m not sure that London quite achieved his aim.

Fighting the illness? These folks have terminal illnesses. They are going to die from them. Period. If I’m not mistaken, the law only applies to those who are terminal. Those that want to keep fighting, can.

The pain is fought with medication, and lots of it. Which really messes a person up.

IMO, these folks just don’t want to waste away to nothing while suffering ever day in agony. They would like to spare themselves, and their families, that. Is that so much to ask?

As far as the ‘HMO’s will push suicide’ argument, I just can’t see that happening.

That wasn’t really directed at Keeve. Sorry if it looks that way.

Yes. I was wondering about the “guilt” issue and how it would play into this. I think that is a real sticky one, as well. I suppose this is where the importance of having a living will shows up. If anyone is interested, you can goto:
for information.

But, I don’t have a living will because I’m “young”, “healthy”, and “nothing is going to happen to me” (even though I know better.)
Again, this goes back to the responsibiltiy on the individual to determine their own fate. If you make provisions for the future, when the time comes guilt, pain, etc., won’t cloud the issue.
Which is one reason why the Federal Government shouldn’t try to make policy on this. It is too personal a subject to be decided upon by such a few number of people.

For those concerned that the law will be abused to kill-off inconvenient patients, please note:

That’s less than 30 people a year, out of a population of 3,471,700 people, or less than 9 assisted suicides per million people per year. That hardly amounts to a rash of cases.

As for the Oregon “conflicting” with existing Federal Law? Uh-uh. Ashcroft decreed that Assisted Suicide “served no legitimate medical purpose” all on his own authority, and then applied Federal Law, which law was intended by Congress to prevent doctors from dealing in Controlled Dangerous Substances by way of writing phony prescriptions. Federal Court has described Ashcroft’s actions as an “edict”, and sharply scolded him. The people of Oregon declared Assisted Suicide to be a valid procedure, and renewed that assertion several years later. Ashcroft hasn’t a leg to stand on.

As for the “Right to Die”, I think it’s the last free choice terminal patients have, and it’s been happening sub rosa for as long as there have been compassionate doctors. It’s about time we decriminalized a practice that is already extant (albeit quite rare), and allow the terminally ill their final choice. Most won’t suicide, but some will.

It’d be nice to know that my FIL and GFIL didn’t die in pain because they had to, but because they chose to.