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Feds Review Assisted-Suicide Law

June 5, 1998

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ The Clinton administration is poised to announce that federal law doesn’t forbid doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon, The Oregonian reported today.

The newspaper, citing sources in Washington, said Attorney General Janet Reno would make the announcement, based on a Justice Department review that said the Controlled Substances Act does not forbid doctors from prescribing lethal doses of medicine for terminally ill patients.

It wasn’t clear whether the decision would foretell a national policy initiative.

But it would clear the way for doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon, where voters twice have approved a law allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs for patients with less than six months to live. It is the nation’s first doctor-assisted suicide law.

However, legal challenges and the reluctance of the Justice Department to issue an opinion about the Oregon law had made doctors and hospitals wary.

At a November meeting of the Oregon Medical Association’s governing body, doctors said they were concerned about implied threats from Congress and the Drug Enforcement Administration to restrict prescriptions for controlled substances.

Although the Justice Department began reviewing its jurisdiction over assisted suicide November 1997, the Oregon law attracted widespread attention in Washington after the first reports of an assisted suicide surfaced in March.

The news sent a shock wave through Congress, prompting dozens of members to write to Reno. Most urged her to accept an interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act that would disqualify assisted suicide as a ``legitimate medical purpose″ of drugs.

The long wait for the Justice Department opinion has not stopped the assisted-suicide law from being used. At least three terminally ill Oregonians _ including a cancer-stricken grandmother in her 80s _ have killed themselves with lethal prescriptions since November.

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