An Aug. 15 news story erroneously reported that the Oregon Death With Dignity Act is "being contested before the Supreme Court." It is not.

I am one of the attorneys who defended the Oregon law at the Supreme Court. The Oregon Death With Dignity Act was first passed by Oregon voters in November 1994 and was affirmed by voters a second time in November 1997. Although Oregon's new law was initially enjoined by a federal trial court, that ruling was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In October 1997, the Supreme Court refused to consider the appeal any further, and Oregon's new law has been in effect ever since.

Since 1993 Oregon's Death With Dignity Act has survived five years of public debate, including two statewide elections, four years of litigation and three sessions of the Oregon legislature. Most recently, the legislature amended the act, making it the first law of its kind to have benefited from the legislative process. Oregon's new law is now in its second year of implementation, and public support has never been higher.

Despite such extensive public support, the Oregon Death With Dignity law is under attack by Congress. Setting aside their usual deference to "states' rights," Sen. Don Nickles (D-Okla.) and Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) have introduced the "Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999," a political euphemism if ever there was one. This legislation would have a negative effect on medical care at the end of life in all 50 states. Specifically, it would:

Place physicians at risk of criminal prosecution for providing adequate pain relief near the end of life.

Confer new police powers upon local enforcement agencies across the country, requiring that the agencies investigate and determine the intent of physicians who prescribe pain medication near the end of life.

Allow the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to substitute its judgment for that of the individual states when determining legitimate medical practice near the end of life.

Unfortunately, as the states continue to make great advances in end-of-life care, Congress now threatens us with expanded state and federal police powers.


Portland, Ore.