Pushing Death

  Four years ago, voters in Oregon legalized physician- assisted suicide. Oregon became the first state where physicians may provide terminally ill patients with a lethal dose of drugs. In the past four years, seventy Oregonians taken advantage of this dreadful law. All used federally controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Agency has argued that this use of federally controlled substances violates federal laws. Tom Constantine, former head of the DEA, warned doctors that they could lose their license and even be arrested if they dispensed controlled substances for something other than a "legitimate medical purpose." Constantine was overruled by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. She prohibited the DEA from enforcing federal law in the case of doctors operating under the Oregon law. Last week, Attorney General Ashcroft did what his predecessor should have done: place the federal government squarely on the side of life. In his memo to DEA head Asa Hutchinson, Ashcroft rejected the idea that dispensing controlled substances to facilitate suicide was a "legitimate medical purpose." He agreed with the DEA's original position and ordered its implementation. Ashcroft's actions drew criticism from Oregon's elected officials. Senator Ron Wyden accused him of "undoing Oregon's popular will in the most undemocratic manner possible." Oregon's governor agreed, and the next day, the state filed suit in federal court to block the DEA from enforcing the law. One day later, District Court judge Robert E. Jones issued a temporary restraining order against the DEA. On November 20, the state and the Justice Department will argue the case. I agree with Wilberforce Forum's Dean, bioethicist Nigel Cameron, that "Attorney General Ashcroft's decision to turn the Feds loose on Oregon's killer physicians is an answer to prayer. This should nip in the bud the slow but growing move to use the prescribing of deadly drugs by doctors as back-door euthanasia." I am sympathetic to state's rights, but not where the right to life is concerned. The Declaration of Independence is absolutely clear. And talk about "popular will" shouldn't obscure the real issue here. What lies behind the drive for physician-assisted suicide is expediency and desire. The combination of suffering and limited healthcare resources leads us to look for an easy way out. It wasn't too long ago that one politician spoke candidly of the elderly having a "duty to die." Polite public opinion professes to be shocked at such a thought. Still, an aging population, combined with the cost of medical care in the last year of life, makes physician-assisted suicide very appealing on an expedient basis. And all of us have that fear that we may be the ones doing the suffering one day. But Christian ethics rises above the expedient. This is what the Gospel does. It doesn't ask what is easier, it asks what is right. Not what is, appealing though that might be, but what ought to be. Likewise, government's job isn't to cater to self-interest, it is to have the people rise above self-interest and do what is morally correct. That's what makes Attorney General Ashcroft's decision so crucial. I urge you: sit down and write him a letter to tell him how much you appreciate his courage. And then I urge you to follow this case closely. Because our government must bring itself to side with life. One that doesn't has lost sight of its legitimate purpose.   For more information: Press release from the Drug Enforcement Agency on physician assisted suicide ruling. You can contact the Attorney General through the Department of Justice at . You can order a video of a debate on bioethics and physician-assisted suicide featuring Wilberforce Forum Dean Nigel Cameron from the Center for Bioethics and Culture (look under videotapes in the "resources for sale" section):


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary