Bmj Usa: News

Justice Department attempts to override Oregon's Death With Dignity Act

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 19 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:E81
  1. Charles Marwick
  1. Washington, DC

    This article originally appeared in BMJ USA

    In early November, when Attorney General John Ashcroft issued an order authorizing legal action against physicians who intentionally prescribe lethal drugs for terminally ill patients to assist in their suicide—thus effectively overruling Oregon's Death With Dignity Act—the outcry was predictable. Those opposed to physician-assisted suicide applauded; supporters of “death with dignity” were vocal in their criticism.

    For example, Fred Richardson, board chairman of the Hemlock Society, wrote a letter to President George W Bush protesting the action. The Society's President, Faye Girsh, described the order as “an unfortunate step backward.” Subsequently, at a press conference, the Society charged that Ashcroft was denying hopelessly ill individuals “the option of a peaceful, dignified death.” The Hemlock Society, based in Denver, Colorado, is one of the largest activist groups promoting the concept of “death with dignity.”

    Ashcroft's action, published in the November 9, 2001, Federal Register, is nationwide in its effect; however, its critics maintain that it is aimed squarely at Oregon's Death With Dignity Act. Under the …

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